Opponents of Gay Marriage Sue to Overturn Board Decision Against Referendum

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 18, 2009

Opponents of gay marriage filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court yesterday hoping to force a referendum on whether to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

The civil suit against the District's Board of Elections and Ethics asks Judge Judith E. Retchin to overturn an election board ruling Monday that blocked a proposal to put the issue before the voters. Citing a District election law prohibiting votes on matters covered under the 1977 Human Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination against gay men, lesbians and other minority groups, the board said that a referendum would "authorize discrimination."

The plaintiffs asked for an expedited hearing. If the court or Congress does not intervene, recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere will become law early next month, at the end of the required congressional review period.

"We are not going to sit by and allow an unelected board of bureaucrats to deny voters their rightful say on this issue and, by their action, allow the institution of marriage and the entire structure of our society to be radically redefined," said Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville and one of seven District residents who are plaintiffs in the suit.

"We will continue to fight for the people of the District of Columbia who want their voice to be heard in this important issue."

The civil suit is the latest step in a battle over same-sex marriage in the District. Last month, the D.C. Council overwhelmingly voted to recognize such unions performed elsewhere. A group called Stand4Marriage swiftly filed paperwork to begin collecting the 21,000 signatures needed to stop the bill and put the issue to a referendum. The election board's ruling Monday stopped the referendum effort.

Legal experts say it appears unlikely that Congress will intervene to stop the law from taking effect, and the D.C. Council is expected to take up a separate proposal this year allowing same-sex marriages to be performed in the District.

"The decision of the board of elections is an insult to every voter in the District of Columbia and must be legally challenged, as we are doing," said the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, the District's first congressional delegate and a plaintiff in the suit.

In the filing, the opponents cite a 1995 appellate court ruling 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 covers a husband and a wife. Since then, the D.C. Council has made many laws gender-neutral and has updated the Human Rights Act to include references to same-sex couples married elsewhere.

Peter Rosenstein, a veteran gay rights activist, said he hopes the court will uphold the election board's ruling.

"I trust the Superior Court will recognize and support what is clearly D.C. law, which says you cannot vote to discriminate against a group of individuals protected by the D.C. Human Rights Act," he said.

The plaintiffs are being represented by attorneys from the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian advocacy and legal defense group.

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