Saturday, November 21, 2009

Legal battle over D.C. Marriage Intiative petition

In May, the D.C. Council adopted the the Jury and Marriage Amendment Act of 2009 (JMAA), which confers recognition of same-sex marriages licensed in other states. JMAA opponents included D.C resident Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland. They sought to qualify a referendum on the law, but in June, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled that the referendum would violate the Human Rights Act by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Representing Jackson and six other D.C. residents, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) filed a lawsuit to try to secure a court order that the Board allow the referendum on the ballot. In July, the judge dismissed the lawsuit, and the JMAA took effect.

Given this outcome, I had thought that marriage-equality legislation was unlikely to follow a similar trajectory, in which Jackson and other marriage-equality opponents would try to defeat the legislation by qualifying a ballot initiative banning same-sex marriages. Events proved me wrong. Jackson and his allies sought to qualify the Marriage Initiative of 2009, and it was "déjà vu all over again."

At a hearing on the referendum, an ADF attorney and colleague made it clear enough that an unfavorable ruling by the D.C. Elections Board would not go unchallenged. On November 17th, the Board ruled that the initiative violated the Human Rights Act (HRA) because it singles out gays and lesbians for discrimination. Again representing Jackson and other plaintiffs, ADF has filed a lawsuit in an attempt to overturn the latest ruling by the Elections Board. [Jackson v. District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics, No. 0008613-09 (D.C. Super. Ct., filed 11/18/2009); ADF press release and complaint.] ADF alleges that HRA's restriction on discrimination should not preclude a discriminatory initiative - an exercise in democracy that plaintiffs claim the D.C. Charter guarantees - and that the Marriage Initiative does not violate the HRA.

I would be surprised if Jackson and other plaintiffs stand any greater odds of success than they did with their first lawsuit over the JMAA. The latest lawsuit includes civil rights activist Walter Fauntroy among the plaintiffs. Rev. Fauntroy told the Washington Post that "[e]very child needs to be bonded to a man and a woman" and that " the survival of the species is at stake."

For more news and commentary on the lawsuit, see this 11/20/09 Metro Weekly article.

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