Last week I had the privilege of participating in a referendum request hearing at the Board of Elections in Washington, DC. Our team petitioned to have the people of the District of Columbia vote on the recently passed “Same-Sex Marriage Law” before it goes into law. We feel very strongly that the people’s voice needs to be heard.
As I sat in the chambers, I felt a growing sense of outrage at the audacity of my city’s elected officials and the hubris of our appointed civil servants. There seems to be an amazing assault on the basic freedoms of all Americans, regardless of race. Courts and legislators seem compelled to ignore polls and the heartfelt values of the people. Further, in DC the Board of Elections and the City Council have ignored the District of Columbia’s Charter, which should act like the “national constitution,” but on city affairs.
Most people do not realize that the city offers two ways for citizens to be involved in co-equal legislation with the city council. The first way is through an initiative process, which allows citizens to actually put laws on the books. Second, citizens can request the right to vote on legislation that they feel is not in the best interests of the city. This referendum process is synonymous to giving the people the right to veto what the council has done.
It is ironic that the license plates of this city say, “Taxation Without Representation.” Most of the citizens of the city would say representation means that the people’s voice should be heard. Given this background, I want to share an edited version of my personal statement before the board.
“This is my third time before this board. Each time, I have asked you to let the people vote; let their voices be heard concerning the definition of marriage in the District. And each time, you have denied the people their right to vote. You have dubbed me, and the hundreds of others fighting to put marriage on the ballot in the District, as “discriminators” and “civil rights violators.”
“Let’s be clear about one thing: the only civil right at issue here is the people’s right to vote. Those supporting the redefinition of marriage have repeatedly attempted to align themselves with the historic struggles of blacks. Indeed, during the debates on the “Same-Sex Marriage” bill, councilmember Catania invoked President Andrew Johnson’s vetoing of an 1865 Congressional law granting black men suffrage in the District.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.