Pastors and other traditional marriage advocates made arguments on Wednesday in support of allowing voters in Washington, D.C., to decide on whether to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
"The people of the District of Columbia should have the right to determine how marriage will be recognized in their district," said Brian Raum, senior legal counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund.
Raum contended before the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics that a referendum would not violate the District's Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against minority groups, including gays and lesbians.
Under D.C. law, referendums cannot violate the act, which was approved in 1977.
Arguing that the act does was never intended to extend to same-sex marriage, Raum said, "The issue before us is not whether same-sex marriage is good or bad policy, but whether who gets to decide this critical moral and social issue."
"The proponents believe the people should decide," he said, as reported by The Washington Post.
Wednesday's hearing lasted four hours as proponents and opponents of a referendum made their case. Last month, the Washington, D.C. Council voted 12-1 to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Traditional marriage supporters want voters to accept or reject the council's decision.
Leading the push for a ballot initiative is Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., and a group of primarily African American ministers.
"I'm not against anybody's individual rights," Jackson said. "But I am against changing societal structure."
But taking the same-sex marriage legislation to the people for a vote "will give vent to public homophobia," said Philip E. Pannell, a Democratic Party activist, according to The Washington Post.
"Unfortunately, in our society, it is still acceptable in many polite circles to vilify and victimize gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people," he said.
The Rev. Dale Wafer of The Harvest church in Northeast Washington, however, stated that they just want the opportunity for the people to debate.
"All we are asking for is a public debate," Wafer said.
The same-sex marriage bill is being reviewed by Congress for approval. Meanwhile, a decision by the elections board on whether a referendum is appropriate for the ballot is expected Friday or early next week.