D.C. Marriage Referendum Rejected; Appeal Filed

A Christian legal group and a coalition of traditional marriage advocates have appealed last week's decision by the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics to refuse to place the marriage issue before voters.

In addition to the appeal, attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund have filed a motion to keep a proposed law legalizing gay marriage from going into effect in March, the legal group reported Tuesday.

"The people of D.C. do not deserve to have a new definition of marriage imposed upon them without their consent," said ADF Legal Counsel Timothy J. Tracey. "We will continue to fight for the people's right to vote on this referendum and participate in a legitimate democratic process in the district."

Last Thursday, the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics refused to accept a proposal to give D.C. voters the opportunity to vote on the "Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009," alleging that the pending law is an improper subject for referendum in the District of Columbia.

The board, it said, is "required … to refuse to accept referendum measures that would violate the HRA (Human Rights Act)."

"Referendum measures that would thwart the Council's efforts to eradicate unlawful discrimination violate the HRA," the board stated, referring to the D.C. Council, which passed the proposed law last December by an 11-2 vote.

"The Civil Marriage Equality Act represents the Council's effort to eliminate the discriminatory exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage on the basis of sex and sexual orientation. The Referendum seeks to frustrate this effort, and would, if successful, have the effect of authorizing discrimination in contravention of the HRA," it added.

ADF and Stand4MarriageDC attorneys, however, argue that the Referendum on the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 does not violate the D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977, noting that the D.C. Superior Court and the Court of Appeals have "consistently held that the regulation of the marital relationship falls outside the intended scope of the HRA."

"The definition of marriage does not involve, and has never involved, one's 'sexual orientation,' and a marriage law which treats men and women both equally, allowing them each to marry someone of the opposite sex, does not discriminate on the basis of sex," they added in their appeal to the D.C. Superior Court.

That said, ADF and Stand4MarriageDC are asking the Superior Court to declare that the Board improperly relied on the HRA as grounds for refusing to accept the Referendum and to order the Board to accept it.

The "Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009," signed on Dec. 17, 2009, by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, is currently undergoing review by Congress and will become law on March 2 unless Congress disapproves it or the court grants the motion to stop it from going into effect.

In its present state, the same-sex marriage bill would make Washington the first city to give same-sex couples both the option to marry or enter a domestic partnership.

Though the proposed amendment allows religious organizations to refuse to promote same-sex marriage through religious programs, counseling, courses or retreats, some churches in the District of Columbia are not satisfied with it.