A bill to allow gay marriage in Washington DC has passed its first reading by 11-2 votes.

It was introduced in October by David Catania, one of two out gay council members.

The bill is tipped to pass, as nine of the council’s 13 members are listed as co-sponsors and mayor Adrian Fenty has clearly signalled he will sign it.

It receives a second and final council vote later this month and will then go to Fenty for approval.

However, it must then be approved by Congress during a 30-day review. Observers have said it is likely the Democrat-controlled Congress will approve it, which could make gay marriage legal by late January.

DC already recognises gay marriages performed in other states where the practice is legal, which are Vermont, Iowa, Connecticut and Massachusetts. New Hampshire will begin performing same-sex marriage early next year.

Recognising out-of-state marriages means that same-sex couples in the district who are married can now receive more than 200 rights, benefits, and obligations associated with marriage under DC law.

However, as with states in which gay marriage is legal, couples will not be able to enjoy many of the 1,100 federal rights and benefits given to straight married couples, due to the Defence of Marriage Act.

Gay marriage was briefly legalised in California but was struck down in November 2008. This autumn, Maine voters opted to repeal a similar bill.