The enactment this week of the District’s Religious Freedom and Civil Rights Equality Amendment Act, which gave same-sex couples the nod to apply for marriage licenses, signaled a coup for that community but downplayed the latest efforts of a local group that vehemently opposes those unions.
“I hope this sends the message that the District is attempting to stand fully on its stance for equality, and that as a city and community, it’s saying that it offers all of citizens – including gays and lesbians — the same rights as anyone else,” gay rights activist Jeffrey Richard told the AFRO.
As of March 3, same-sex couples are allowed to marry in the District, and during a celebration reception hosted the day before by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, she praised the City Council for preserving human rights in the city.
“When it comes to marriage, it’s the most personal, the most precious of relationships . . . and the Council understood that,” Norton told the crowd of about 100 people who attended the event on Capitol Hill.
However, Stand4Marriage, the group led by the Right Rev. Harry Jackson, filed a last-minute petition on Monday in Supreme Court to stall the District’s new law so that he could move forward with a missive to have a referendum placed on the fall ballot that would provide residents the right to vote on the city’s marriage redefinition law.
The new law garnered the Council’s approval last December in a 12 to 1 vote and was set in motion amid flak from Jackson and his supporters, whose past argument was tossed by the local court.
In November 2009, Jackson brought a lawsuit against the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics, challenging BOEE's refusal to put a similar referendum on the ballot.
At that time, District of Columbia Attorney General Peter Nickles suggested in a brief that Jackson's suit was based on "irrelevant stereotypes and prejudice."
In late December, Nickles was also quoted by the online publication, Metro Weekly, as saying that ''Petitioners' claim that their proposed initiative does not discriminate on the basis of gender or sexual orientation must be rejected for the same reasons the Supreme Court rejected the State's arguments in Loving v. Virginia.” In that case, the Supreme Court, in 1967, overturned the state of Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage.
If Jackson wins a stay, it would stop the effective date of the marriage law – staving off legalization of same-sex unions until the Supreme Court resolves any underlying issues Jackson and his group might present.
“[Stand4 Marriage] is appealing the Court of Appeals’ decision denying their motion for a preliminary injunction, staying the effective date of the act that was at issue in the referendum they filed last year,” Rudolph McGann, a BOEE attorney, stated in a phone interview with the AFRO.
He said the group’s filing in that matter is already set for argument, but expressed doubt over their success. So far, “They haven’t won a single case,” said McGann.
BOEE spokeswoman Alyson McLaughlin said there are certain types of legislations that can go to an initiative or that can go to a referendum — and certain types that are reserved for the legislative body of a jurisdiction.
She said Stand 4Marriage has properly followed guidelines for landing a spot on either the September primary or the November ballot.
“If a court order rules that the measure would go on the ballot, depending on when that ruling comes down then the clock would start on the rest of the procedures,” McLaughlin said, “meaning that a petition would be released and then there would be a number of signatures to be collected on the petition in order for the measure to be put on the ballot.”
She said that afterward, there would be a period of time when the signatures would need to be collected.
Jackson’s filing with the Supreme Court can be compared to actions underscored in California’s controversial Proposition 8, where a federal judge helped make same-sex marriages legal prior to a referendum.
Meanwhile, Richardson said the rights of minorities should never be put to the popular vote and that Jackson’s efforts are hypocritical.
“Everyone’s entitled to their personal opinions,” Richardson said. “However, Bishop Jackson is someone coming into the District from the outside and attempting to use the Voting Rights Act to divide the community.”