The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics rejected a proposal to allow voters to decide on whether the District should recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
Monday's ruling against a referendum irked pastors and traditional marriage supporters who want the people to be able to decide on the critical moral and social issue.
"The real human rights issue at stake in this decision is whether the people of D.C. will be given their right to vote," Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., told The Washington Post. "We are not going to sit still for allowing an unelected board of bureaucrats to deny voters their rightful say on this issue and, by their action, allow the institution of marriage to be radically redefined."
Jackson and a group of primarily African American pastors along with conservative family groups have been pushing for a referendum since the Washington, D.C. Council voted last month to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.
The elections board, however, ruled that a referendum would authorize discrimination against gays and lesbians, which is prohibited by the District's Human Rights Act.
Under D.C. law, referendums cannot violate the city's human rights laws.
"The Referendum's proposers would, in contravention of the HRA, strip same-sex couples of the rights and responsibilities of marriage that they were afforded by virtue of entering into valid marriages elsewhere," the board stated in its ruling.
Brian Raum, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said proponents of the referendum will file an appeal Tuesday in D.C. Superior Court.
Raum has argued that the issue is not whether same-sex marriage is good or bad policy, but whether who gets to decide the issue.
Referendum proponents say the people should decide.
The same-sex marriage bill is currently under congressional review and could become law as early as July if the court does not intervene.