The Blade reports on comments by those who testified at yesterday's hearing on the District of Columbia's Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009.
The CEO and general counsel of Washington Archdiocese’s Catholic Charities told Council members that they would consider suing the District over the legislation, unless the Council amends it to include the same religious-liberty exemptions that Robin Fretwell Wilson and several other legal scholars have recommended. The Archdiocese representatives claimed the legislation fails to adequately protect religious organizations that provide public services. The legislation would bar a religious organization from doing what a Methodist Church did in New Jersey, when it would not rent its beach pavilion for a civil-union ceremony, even though the pavilion has been open to public use. The general counsel said that this "key provision that would appear to provide a religious exemption to religious organizations … gives with one hand and takes away [with the other]” - a statement that she appears to have lifted from yesterday's op-ed by Wilson. Councilmember David Catania, lead author of the bill, replied,
I find it offensive when you enter the public square and take public funds, yet you want to discriminate against people over employee benefits. We’ll just see you in court if you have a difference over this.Law professor Nancy Polikoff asked for an amendment to suspend the sunset provision for phasing out of domestic partnerships. She elaborates on her position here.
10/26/09 Washington Post:
In addition to fighting for a public vote on same-sex marriage in the District [the Marriage Initiative of 2009], the opponents say they will argue in court that the Federal Defense of Marriage Act banning gay marriage applies to the city. Several national conservative organizations plan to support the effort, guaranteeing that local opponents havethe money and publicity to wage a vigorous battle ... [T]elections board heard nearly five hours of testimony on the request by Stand4MarriageDC to put an initiative on the ballot next year stating that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in the District of Columbia." The elections board has to decide whether the initiative would violate the rights of the city's gay and lesbian residents. D.C. law prohibits a vote on a matter covered by the 1977 Human Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination against gays, lesbians and other minority groups.
Cleta Mitchell, an attorney representing Stand4MarriageDC, with which Jackson and the National Organization for Marriage are affiliated, and Austin R. Nimocks, a local attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based, "Christ-Centered" legal group, and Jackson got the ball rolling Monday morning ... Mitchell and Nimocks argued that the [Board of Elections and Ethics] in July helped close the door on their court appeal of the referendum effort by arguing that Jackson's group could later pursue the initiative process. What pursuing the process meant, exactly, seems open to interpretation. "You are legally precluded from switching your position now," Mitchell argued. "Your brief told the court we could pursue an initiative." Mitchell and Nimocks [also] argued that Dean vs. District of Columbia, in which the D.C. Court of Appeals decided in 1995 that D.C. law did not allow for same-sex marriage licenses, remained valid. However, that decision was based upon gender-specific language that no longer exists in D.C. laws, leaving Mitchell to speculate that if the [D.C. Human Rights Act] trumps D.C.'s marriage laws, the District would already be in violation of the HRA by not granting marriage equality.
See my earlier post on the prospect of a legal battle over the proposed initiative. Whatever one thinks of Mitchell's reasoning, it's curious to learn that ADF again purports to find authority in Dean v. District of Columbia, 653 A.2d 307 (D.C. 1995), when its reliance on that case did not prevent dismissal of its recent lawsuit over a referendum against out-of-state recognition of same-sex marriage.
ADF attorneys Austin R. Nimocks and Tim Tracey appeared on the the Don Kroah Show to discuss the “DC Marriage Initiative of 2009″ and “The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Union Act of 2009.” The MP3 runs just under 11 minutes.
The Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, the District's first delegate to Congress [and a prominent civil rights activist], was the most prestigious person who testified against same-sex marriage. He spoke at the election board hearing about what he sees as the importance of allowing a vote; afterward I asked him about the substance of the issue ..."Every child needs to be bonded to a man and a woman," he said.