A D.C. Superior Court judge ruled Thursday against a recent proposal to call for a referendum on same-sex marriages, representing yet another legislative victory in the campaign for gay rights in the District.
Opponents of same-sex marriage saw the referendum, which would state that “only marriage between a man and woman is valid or recognized in the District of Columbia,” as an opportunity to negate the marriage equality law passed by the D.C. Council in December.
In her ruling, Judge Judith N. Macaluso upheld two previous decisions by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics that a ballot option would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. Macaluso also determined that previous court decisions outlawing same-sex marriage in the District are no longer valid.
“The fact that the proposed initiative, if passed, would violate the Human Rights Act provides an independent basis for upholding the Board’s decision: the initiative runs afoul of an implied exclusion barring provisions that violates the state’s law,” Macaluso wrote in her decision.
The board had refused two proposed ballot initiatives on the topic of same-sex marriages, first in June 2009 and again in November, ruling that it was not a proper subject for a referendum because it authorized discrimination.
Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md. and a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage, appealed the board’s November ruling to the Superior Court. Last week, 39 members of Congress filed a brief in support of Jackson’s appeal, arguing that the election board overstepped its authority by prohibiting a referendum. Jackson and his attorneys said Thursday that they plan to bring Macaluso’s decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals.
“Regarding a potential referendum, the law is very clear on [the] matter,” GW College Democrats President Peter Weiss said in an e-mail. “The 1977 Human Rights Act would prohibit such a vote. I expect the city to adhere to the existing laws.”
A same-sex marriage bill was already passed 11-2 by the D.C. Council and signed by Mayor Adrian Fenty in December. But Congress’s oversight authority for the District means that it has 30 working days from the bill’s enactment to overturn the legislation. After the waiting period, which began on Jan. 11, the bill automatically becomes law. The marriage equality law would allow same-sex marriages in the District by early March.
“The College Republicans are disappointed in the City Council for continuing to focus so much attention on this issue while much more pressing matters face D.C.,” said College Republicans public relations director Rob Noel in an e-mail. “The city and its residents would be better served if the Council focused on the failing schools and growing poverty.”
After the court’s decision was released, the board scrapped its plans to hold a public hearing on Feb. 16 to consider a referendum on same-sex marriages and instead will hold the hearing on Jan. 27. The hearing aims to determine whether the proposed referendum measure “is a proper subject for referendum,” according to a public notice released by the board on Jan. 15.
“I think it’s sad that people are questioning equality and that they are questioning the legitimacy of this because they’ve seen it work now very successfully in five other states,” said Michael Komo, president of Allied in Pride. Same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont. All 31 states that have offered a referendum on same-sex marriage ultimately voted against it.
Komo said he plans to attend the hearing.
“We will definitely be there – our same proponents – and I think that people will see at the public hearing that the overwhelming support for marriage equality is the right way to go. And I’m very confident that people will follow suit,” Komo said. Noel said the CRs do not plan to attend.
Junior Samantha Granski said she thinks it’s a good idea to let the public decide whether same-sex marriages should be legal, rather than just the government.
“It’d be just more democratic that way. It’s something that’s going to benefit the public, at least some members of the public. So I think that they should have the option of – the choice of – ‘do I really want this or not?'”