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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 16, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 29
D.C. Appeals Court rejects referendum on marriage equality
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D.C. Appeals Court rejects referendum on marriage equality

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Washington D.C. Court of Appeals has rejected a bid to put the district's marriage equality law up for a public vote.

The appeals court justices unanimously agreed that a proposed initiative on marriage rights would violate D.C.'s Human Rights Act by authorizing discrimination against Gay and Lesbian residents.

The justices split 5-4 on whether the so-called 'Human Rights Act limitation' - which prohibits discriminatory initiatives from being put on the ballot - was a valid restriction on the right of initiative.

The suit was filed by Bishop Harry Jackson and other local religious leaders who opposed passage of D.C.'s marriage equality law last December.

The marriage law took effect on March 3 this year.

Jackson claimed that the D.C. Charter Amendment Act (CAA) of 1977 gives him the right to get the marriage equality law put on the ballot for a vote.

On the other hand, marriage equality advocates pointed to a provision added to the city's Initiative Procedures Act (IPA) that bans such ballot measures if they would result in discrimination prohibited by the Human Rights Act.

D.C.'s Human Rights Act bans discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation, among other characteristics.

D.C.'s Elections Board previously ruled that Jackson's proposed initiative was unlawful because of the anti-discrimination provisions of the IPA, and a D.C. Superior Court agreed.

In the appeal, the majority of the Appeals Court also agreed that Jackson's proposed initiative had been properly disallowed.

"The [D.C. City] Council acted within its authority under the CAA and the Home Rule Act in enacting the Human Rights safeguard of the IPA and in directing the Board not to accept initiatives that contravene that safeguard. Because appellants' proposed initiative would authorize, or have the effect of authorizing, discrimination on a basis prohibited by the Human Rights Act, it was not a proper subject of initiative," the court majority wrote.

"Therefore, the Board acted lawfully in refusing to accept the initiative on that basis. Accordingly, the judgment of the Superior Court upholding the Board's determination is Affirmed."

Four justices, including Chief Judge Eric T. Washington, held that the IPA's anti-discrimination language was not a valid reason to deny Jackson an opportunity to file an initiative - even though they agreed with their colleagues that the initiative he was proposing would be discriminatory under D.C.'s Human Rights Act.

"This court must decide, as a matter of first impression, whether the IPA's 'Human Rights Act limitation' is a valid restriction on the right of initiative. For the reasons which follow, we would hold that it is not," the minority said.

"Had our view prevailed, we would not have reached the question whether the Board properly refused to accept the proposed initiative. In light of the majority's holding, however, and in light of recent legislation recognizing and authorizing same-sex marriages in the District of Columbia, we agree with the majority's conclusion that the proposed initiative would authorize, or have the effect of authorizing, discrimination prohibited by the Human Rights Act, as amended in 2002."

President George W. Bush appointed Chief Judge Washington and four other justices. Pres. Clinton appointed the remaining four.

Jackson told reporters he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but many legal observers believe they would be unlikely to take the case.

"This is a very precedent-setting decision for District citizens because of the issue of whether an initiative can be blocked by District laws," Jackson said. "The people have a right to vote on this issue."

"The court's ruling today is a significant victory for justice, the rule of law and the protection of all D.C. residents against discrimination," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "It's time for the National Organization for Marriage to realize equality is here to stay no matter how much money they want to throw at turning back the clock."

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