A group of ministers and same-sex marriage opponents filed a request today calling for a citywide referendum on whether the District should recognize gay marriages performed in other states.
The group, Stand 4 Marriage, said it will begin collecting signatures to try to force the issue onto the ballot. Earlier this month, the City Council and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) agreed to recognized gay marriages performed elsewhere.
The opponents formally requested today that the Board of Elections convene a meeting to decide whether the issue is eligible for a referendum. If the Board agrees, the opponents will have to collect signatures from 5 percent of registered voters. If an election is called, the legislation will be stayed until that referendum occurs, the opponents say.
"The recognition of same-sex marriages in the District of Columbia is a bad idea for our citizens. At a minimum, it should not be allowed without the approval of voters," said Bishop Harry Jackson, Senior Pastor of Hope Christian Church "Thirty states in America have voted on whether gay marriage should be legalized, and every state has opposed it because legalizing gay marriage has significant consequences for society. It is only right that voters in the District of Columbia also be allowed to vote on this important issue before it is imposed on its residents."
Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), the sponsor of the legislation to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere, said he is bewildered by Jackson's strategy. Noting the District's progressive reputation, Mendelson predicted District voters would reject efforts to stop same-sex marriage.
"It is certainly within their rights to seek a referendum, but I think the sentiment of the community is pretty clear," Mendelson said.
Mendelson also said city officials should closely scrutinize whether the issue belongs before voters.
"The experience of these kinds of referendum in other states is they are very divisive and sometimes bring out the worst in the debate," said Mendelson, who added, "Civil rights shouldn't be subject to referendum."
But Jackson said he's confident he can prevail, despite the city's liberal reputation, if the Board of Elections allows the question on the ballot.
"I was involved in Florida, we beat them with 61 percent of the vote. In California, supposedly the most liberal state in the union, we got over 50 percent," Jackson said. "In the District, you got 55 percent African-American, a growing number of Hispanics, an immigrant community that is by in large not pro-gay marriage... and you have a strong Roman Catholic population, all of whom, if organized and talked to, would stand up for this measure."