Ballot Initiative Requested on Same-Sex Marriage
Eight opponents of same-sex marriage formally filed a request today with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to hold a ballot initiative to stop efforts to allow couples in the District to marry.
The one-sentence initiative reads, "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in the District of Columbia."
After they dropped off their paperwork, the leader of the group, Bishop Harry Jackson, and the other members of the Stand4MarriageDC coalition stood at Judiciary Square chanting, "let the people vote."
"Citizens are determined to go to the ballot box on this issue one way or another," said Robert King, an ANC commissioner in Ward 5. "Why must the citizens of the District of Columbia be held hostage and treated like unintelligent...citizens."
The group, hoping to stall efforts in the D.C. Council to legalize same-sex marriage, is pushing to hold a referendum sometime next year. But the elections board must first rule whether the referendum request is valid. In the District, a referendum cannot be held on a matter that violates the city's Human Rights Act. In addition to other minority groups, the act protects gays and lesbians from discrimination.
In June, the board blocked an effort by Jackson to hold an initiative to reverse a council bill allowing the District to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The two-member board cited the Human Rights Act for its decision.
Kenneth McGhie, general counsel for the Board of Elections and Ethics, said the board will probably hold a hearing on Jackson's latest request in October.
"We still have to look at all the legal issues, and one of those is human rights," McGhie said.
Peter Rosenstein, president of the Campaign for All D.C. Families, said he is optimistic that the elections board will once again block a referendum.
"We believe the Board of Elections and Ethics ... will decide that you, legally in D.C., cannot have an initiative depriving a protected minority of their rights," Rosenstein said. "We believe that holding an initiative would be counterproductive and would unfortunately pit good people against each other."
King, who says he's the longest-serving ANC commissioner in the city, countered: "This is not a human rights issue."
"I would not be involved in anything that would violate one's human rights. We are all God's children," King said. "This is about the civil rights of 411,000 D.C. (voters)."
Although it is not formally part of the Stand4MarriageDC coalition, the Archdiocese of Washington also submitted a letter to the elections board today calling for a referendum. Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl even sent a letter to 300 Catholic priests asking them to get behind the effort.
"It is ironic that at the same time the city is asking for voting representation in the U.S. Congress, its leaders are denying residents the opportunity to participate in the Democratic process for an issue with widespread implications for children and families," Ronald Jackson, executive director of the D.C. Catholic Conference, said in a statement.
The involvement of the archbishop will probably add a new dynamic to what could turn into a nasty battle this fall. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) plans to introduce a bill this fall legalizing same-sex marriage. In preparation for that move, gay rights groups have begun holding meetings to plot strategy.
Most observers expect that the elections board will have a hard time reversing its previous stance that a referendum and initiative would be a violation of the Human Rights Act. But if the issue does land on the ballot, activists on both sides would mount grueling campaigns to influence the outcome.
When Jackson was asked by a reporter today why he's confident his side could prevail at the ballot box, a woman in the audience shouted out, "its common sense."
"God is on our side," she added.
-- Tim Craig
Washington Post Editors
September 1, 2009; 12:21 PM ET
Categories: Church and State , City Life , Tim Craig , Voting Rights | Tags: Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl, Archdiocese of Washington, Bishop Harry Jackson, ballot initiative, same-sex marriage, voting
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