Supreme Court refuses to revive effort to put D.C. same-sex marriage law to vote

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 18, 2011; 11:53 AM

The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to revive a lawsuit intending to allow a voter referendum on the District's same-sex marriage law.

Local courts have said the District's Board of Elections and Ethics was justified in denying attempts by opponents of same-sex marriage to put the issue to a vote. Without comment, the justices said they would not review the latest decision upholding the board's decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals.

The board has contended that such a ballot initiative would, if approved, violate the city's Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. A judge agreed, and the appeals court by a 5 to 4 vote upheld the ruling.

The challenge was led by Bishop Harry Jackson, a D.C. resident who is pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville. He and other opponents, represented by a conservative legal group, said it should not be up to officials to decide when public initiatives are allowed.

The D.C. appeals court majority said that the board "correctly determined that the proposed initiative would have the effect of authorizing" discrimination.

And the court said the council "was not obliged to allow initiatives that would have the effect of authorizing discrimination prohibited by the Human Rights Act to be put to voters, and then to repeal them, or to wait for them to be challenged as having been improper subjects of initiative, should they be approved by voters."

Proponents of the referendum said it is up to Congress, not the council, to set policy on ballot initiatives. They told the court that the issue was of such national importance it should agree to hear the dispute.

But the city said the Supreme Court should remain true to its policy to defer to the district's court of appeals on matters of strictly local significance.

"The statutes at issue are limited in effect to the District," the city's brief to the court said. "There is no national analogue to pertinent provisions of District law, and indeed no federal right of initiative at all."

The D.C. Council voted in 2009 to allow same-sex marriages.

The case is Jackson v. D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.

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