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Posted at 12:05 PM ET, 01/27/2010

Elections board holds a third hearing on same-sex marriage challenge

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics is holding another hearing today to decide whether same-sex marriage opponents can hold an referendum to overturn the D.C. Council bill legalizing those marriages.

The hearing marks the third time this year that elections board has been called on to decide whether voters should have a chance to weigh in on the same-sex marriage. In the two previous rulings, the board determined that a referendum or initiative would violate the Human Rights Act, which is designed to protect gay men and lesbians and other minority groups from discrimination.

Each request has been somewhat different. In the spring, opponents filed a one to hold a referendum blocking a bill recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. During the fall, opponents filed for an initiative defining marriage as being between a man and a woman. The current proposal is designed to hold a referendum on a vote the bill pending before Congress allowing same-sex marriages to take place in the city.

A Superior Court judge declined to intervene in the first ruling, which allowed the city to start recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages. Two weeks ago, a D.C. Superior Court judge also issued a broad ruling that upheld the board's recent decision blocking a vote on whether to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Same-sex marriage opponents are appealing that decision.

With the elections board on clearly record now opposing a public vote on the issue, some same-sex marriage supporters have questioned the need for continued hearings.

But Kenneth J. McGhie, general counsel for the elections board, said in an interview Tuesday the board is required to hold hearing whenever an initiative or referendum request is filed.

"The statue requires us to do it, so even if it's virtually the same type of thing, by law we've got to hold a public hearing to make a decision," McGhie said.

Much of today's hearing will likely be dominated by similar testimony as the two previous hearings. McGhie, however, noted both sides could present some new arguments today. The D.C. Council, for example, is arguing that a public vote should not be allowed because the city code prohibits a referendum on a matter involving the allocation of money. Same sex marriage in the District, city attorneys argue, will impact revenues.

Should media outlets - many of which have increasingly limited resources - continue to cover these hearings absent a signal that a referendum could still be allowed to take place? Let us know what you think.

-Tim Craig

By Anne Bartlett  |  12:05 PM ET, 01/27/2010

Categories:  Tim Craig, Tim Craig

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