Suit: D.C. voters should have say on 'gay marriage'

Baptist Press
Posted: Nov 19, 2009 5:15 PM
WASHINGTON (BP)--The nation's capital appears poised to become the sixth jurisdiction in the U.S. to legalize "gay marriage" unless a lawsuit succeeds in calling for citizens to be allowed to have a say.

At issue is the refusal by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to allow a proposed initiative prohibiting "gay marriage" to be placed on the ballot. The board ruled Nov. 17 that the initiative -- which would define marriage as only "between a man and a woman" -- could not go forward because it "would authorize discrimination prohibited" under the city's Human Rights Act. The board's approval was necessary in order for citizens to begin collecting signatures, which must be equal to 5 percent of all registered voters.

The board's action has frustrated conservatives, who point to states such as Maine and California where voters affirmed the traditional definition of marriage. "Gay marriage" has never won at the ballot.

The D.C. City Council is expected to take the first of two votes Dec. 1 to legalize "gay marriage." The mayor supports "gay marriage," as does a solid majority of the council. The city already recognizes out-of-city "gay marriages."

The Alliance Defense Fund's lawsuit was filed on behalf of eight D.C. citizens, including civil right pioneer Walter Fauntroy, who was a friend of Martin Luther King Jr.

"The people of D.C. have a right to vote on the definition of marriage," ADF senior legal counsel Austin R. Nimocks said in a statement. "The D.C. Charter guarantees the people the right to vote, and the council cannot amend the charter for any reason, much less to deny citizens the right to vote. ADF will defend the right of the residents of our nation's capitol to participate in a legitimate democratic process in the district."

The 15-page petition filed by the Alliance Defense Fund asks for an expedited relief and argues that the D.C. Initiative, Referendum, and Recall Charter Amendments Act of 1978 -- which governs initiatives -- gives voters wide leverage on initiatives and has only one prohibition: initiatives dealing with financial appropriations. The D.C. board improperly applied the Human Rights Act to its interpretation of the Charter Amendments Act, the suit states.

"The Proponents," the suit reads, "seek to exercise their right of initiative by placing on the ballot a measure that would affirm the definition of marriage long understood to be the law in the District of Columbia: 'Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in the District of Columbia.'"

Although all D.C. laws are subject to review by Congress, "gay marriage" backers believe they have an ally with Democrats in control of both the House and Senate. Homosexual activists did not push the law when Republicans controlled both chambers.

Five states recognize "gay marriage": Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Iowa. In none of them, though, have voters been allowed a direct say.

For more information about the political battle to protect the definition of marriage in D.C., visit

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