A D.C. City Council committee approved legislation yesterday that would make it impossible for Washington voters to use proposed new ballot procedures to restrict human rights, such as laws that prohibit discrimination against homosexuals.
The provision was added by the council's government operations committee to a pending bill creating the legal machinery for the new initiative, referendum and recall procedures, which are slated to go into effect later this year.
City voters decided in an election in November to amend the city charter to create the new procedures. They will permit voters to use the ballot to write new laws, block the effectiveness of measures enacted by the City Council and remove elected officials from office.
Anxiety was created in Washington's homosexual community after voters used referendum procedures last year in Dade County, Fla., and more recently in St. Paul, Minn., and Wichita, Kan., to repeal gay rights ordinances.
The District of Columbia has one of the nation's strongest laws protecting homosexual from discrimination in housing, jobs, public accommodations and other areas.
The D.C. Gay Activists Alliance submitted a legal memorandum last month contending that the council has legal power to block the use of the referendum to curtail those protections.
The provision to do so was offered by council member Marion Barry (D-At Large) and was adopted by the committee on a unanimious voice vote. Barry has been endorsed for mayor by the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the area's leading gay political organization.
Its adoption was praised by Franklin G. Kameny, a member of the D.C. Human Rights Commission and a longtime gay rights activist and spokesman.
"Mr. Barry set out the case very fully and very effectively," he said. "Anybody who believes in human rights could only concur."
Mary S. Rodgers, elections administrator for the city's Board of Elections and Ethics, said at a board meeting that the wording of Barry's amendment was broad that it is sure to create problems.
"We will be constantly in the soup if we have to make a judgment," based on Barry's measure, on which referendum measures to certify for placement on the ballot, she said.
The language would prevent votes on any matters involving "race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, fmily responsibilities, matriculation, political affiliation, physical handicap, source of income and place of residence or business."
The measure is scheduled to go before the full council next month.