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D.C. Elections Board Says No to Allowing Referendum on Same-Sex Marriage

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Edward S. Grandis, who married his partner last summer in California before voters there outlawed same-sex marriage, said that with the elections board decision he feels as if he has been freed from "second-class status."

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"It gives me great satisfaction that I and my spouse will be accorded the same rights and dignity as all other marriages in the District," said Grandis, 55, who lives in Dupont Circle.

Yesterday's ruling will probably embolden the D.C. Council to take up a separate proposal this year to allow same-sex marriages to be performed in the District. David A. Catania (I-At Large) said he plans to introduce the legislation in the fall.

Board officials note that yesterday's ruling applies only to the question of whether a vote can be held on the bill to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. But the opinion by Errol R. Arthur, chairman of the board, and member Charles R. Lowery Jr., strongly suggests that the board would be skeptical of any initiative that would deny gays and lesbians any rights that straight people have.

"I don't want to speak for what the board will do in the future, but it does look like their decision is fairly sweeping," Catania said. "It will be hard going forward for opponents of same-sex marriage to be successful using either the initiative or the referendum process."

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said he agrees with yesterday's ruling but cautions that it might not apply to a vote on same-sex marriages performed in the District. "I haven't made up my mind on that," he said.

At a hearing last week, opponents of same-sex marriage said a vote would not violate the Human Rights Act because an appellate court ruled in 1995 that the District need not recognize same-sex marriages.

In Dean v. the District of Columbia, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the Human Rights Act did not apply because family law referenced husband and wife. Since then, the D.C. Council has made such references gender-neutral and has updated the act to include references to same-sex couples married elsewhere.

The elections board indicated that the 1995 appellate ruling is no longer valid "in this matter."

"Simply put, the Act means that the HRA now requires the District government and all public accommodations . . . to refrain from discriminating against same-sex couples who are validly married elsewhere," the elections board stated in yesterday's ruling.

When the council considers whether to legalize all same-sex marriages, Catania said the legislation could be drafted in such a way that it is covered under family law and the Human Rights Act.

The Rev. Derek A. McCoy, a same-sex-marriage opponent who represents Stand4Marriage, said he remains optimistic that same-sex marriage can be derailed in the District.

""I think we need to work the process and we need to work the courts," McCoy said.

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