D.C. Board Rejects Ballot Initiative on Gay Marriage

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled Tuesday not to take same-sex marriage to the ballot for a vote by the people.

Allowing residents of the District of Columbia to vote on the divisive issue would violate the Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against gays and lesbians, the board determined.

"We have considered all of the testimony presented to the Board and understand the desire to place this question on the ballot," said Board Chairman Errol R. Arthur in a statement Tuesday. "However, the laws of the District of Columbia preclude us from allowing this initiative to move forward."

In September, supporters of traditional marriage filed with the elections board a ballot initiative to define marriage in the District of Columbia as between one man and one woman. They argued that all they want is for the people to be able to exercise their right to have a say and vote on a public policy issue.

At a recent public hearing on the proposed ballot initiative, however, members of the D.C. Council reiterated their opposition to a referendum.

"A matter of fairness and justice should not be subject to a referendum," said Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who led the hearing.

The D.C. Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary passed a bill last week that would legalize marriage for same-sex couples in the district. Same-sex marriages performed elsewhere are already recognized.

The bill includes a provision stating that a religious society or organization is not required to provide services, accommodations, facilities or goods for the purpose of the solemnization or celebration of same-sex marriage.

Recognizing that some religious institutions are opposed to same-sex marriage, the provision exempts them from liability if they refuse to promote same-sex marriage. However, the bill does not exempt a group from liability if it discriminates in such areas as health care benefits for the same-sex spouse of an employee.

"While the legislation permits religious institutions to determine, according to their religious beliefs, who may marry according to the tenets of that religion, it is the intent to not permit – consistent with our laws – discrimination on gender, sexual orientation, or marital status," the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary stated in its report last week.

The D.C. Council announced Tuesday that it will conduct its first vote on the bill on Dec. 1. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has promised to sign the bill, which has to also go through congressional review.

Meanwhile, Stand4MarriageDC, which led the effort in seeking a ballot measure, plans to appeal Tuesday's ruling in D.C. Superior Court.