Conservative groups suffered another blow Tuesday when a D.C. Superior Court judge ruled against allowing the issue of same-sex marriage recognition to go to voters in the District.
Judge Judith E. Retchin dismissed a lawsuit – filed by the Alliance Defense Fund on behalf of a group of ministers – that asked to delay enactment of a law recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. A preliminary injunction would have allowed the referendum process to move forward.
Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., and a group of ministers have been pushing for a referendum since the Washington, D.C. Council voted in May to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
In June, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics rejected the proposal for a referendum that would allow voters to decide the matter.
The Board said the proposal would violate the District's Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Under D.C. law, referendums cannot violate the city's human rights laws.
The lawsuit pointed out, however, that District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled nearly 15 years ago that maintaining the recognition of marriage as one man and one woman does not violate the act.
ADF Senior Legal Counsel Brian Raum argues, "Marriage didn't violate the Human Rights Act when the HRA passed 32 years ago, and it doesn't now. That is simply a political argument meant to prevent the people from voting."
"If the referendum violates the HRA, then the marriage statutes that have been on the books since D.C. was formed also violate the HRA, and that is absurd," he adds.
But in Tuesday's ruling, Retchin agreed with the Board.
The judge also noted that the plaintiffs' argument is that they simply disagree with the decision to recognize same-sex marriages.
"At bottom, the harm about which petitioners complain is not based on a denial of the right to referendum. Rather, they simply disagree with legislation enacted by our duly-elected council," Retchin stated. "A citizen's disagreement with constitutionally sound legislation, whether based on political, religious or moral views, does not rise to the level of an actionable harm."
Jackson called the judgment "absurd" and pointed out that the real issue at stake is whether the people in the District will be give their right to vote.
ADF attorneys have argued that the issue is not whether same-sex marriage is good or bad policy, but whether who gets to decide the issue.
Jackson commented on Tuesday, "The Superior Court today joined the Board of Elections in denying the citizens of the District of Columbia the right to vote on the fundamental principle of what marriage should be in our society."
"No bureaucrat or judge should silence the voters of this great city," he added.
The conservative minister vowed to continue fighting to protect traditional marriage in the District. He plans to file for a ballot initiative with the Board of Elections and Ethics that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.