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Judge Declines to Stay Law on Gay Marriage

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Superior Court judge decided yesterday not to delay enactment of a law stipulating that the D.C. government will recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

Judge Judith E. Retchin ruled that she would not a grant a stay preventing the law from taking effect Monday, as requested by opponents. However, the effective date is likely to be delayed by the need for congressional approval. Attorneys for the group said they needed more time to research and argue their position before the law takes effect.

Opponents, led by Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, and seven other D.C. voters want a referendum on the issue, but the D.C. elections board said that would be illegal under the District's Human Rights Act.

Although Retchin decided against delaying the law's enactment, she said opponents could seek to amend the law after the marriage provision takes effect.

On May 5, the D.C. Council voted to pass the provision recognizing same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, and it is expected to vote to allow same-sex marriages to be performed legally in the city. Retchin said Jackson's group should have filed its complaint with the court sooner. She called the delay "inexcusable" and said the group failed to establish a "likelihood of success on the merits" of its arguments.

Retchin said the crux of the group's argument is not its inability to have a referendum on the issue, but that "they simply disagree" with the decision to recognize same-sex marriages.

In a statement, Jackson called the ruling "an absurd" judgment. "Our laws have always recognized that marriage is between a man and a woman," he said. "This is the law in 44 states and at the federal level." The real rights issue, he said, is whether D.C. residents will get the right to vote.

Brian Raum, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, the Christian conservative law firm that represented Jackson and his group, said they will file an appeal seeking to have the law overturned. The group announced after the ruling that it will seek a ballot initiative on a law defining marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Kenneth J. McGhie, an attorney with the board of elections, said he is "happy with the decision."

Veteran gay rights advocate Peter D. Rosenstein, president of the Campaign for All D.C. Families, called Retchin's decision a "win for all" District residents. "We are a progressive and fair people in D.C., and today the equal rights of the [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] community are being affirmed," he said.

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