(CN) – The D.C. Court of Appeals on Thursday voted 5-4 to reject a ballot initiative intended to “undo” the District of Columbia’s recognition and later legalization of gay marriage.
The appeals court narrowly backed a decision by the District Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics, rejecting a ballot initiative that would have amended D.C. law to recognize only heterosexual marriages.
The initiative had targeted a 2009 amendment to the district’s marriage laws that provided recognition for same-sex marriages performed in states where gay marriage was legal.
While its supporters battled to get the initiative on the ballot, the council passed the Marriage Equality Act, which recognized and legalized gay marriage in Washington, D.C.
The board ultimately rejected the initiative, saying it would “strip same-sex couples of the rights and responsibilities of marriages currently recognized in the District” and would “authorize discrimination” barred by the Human Rights Act.
The measure’s proponents challenged the board decision in Superior Court and lost.
The appeals court agreed with the trial judge that the proposed initiative “would authorize, or have the effect of authorizing, discrimination on a basis prohibited by the Human Rights Act.”
“Therefore, the Board acted lawfully in refusing to accept the initiative on that basis,” Judge Phyllis Thompson wrote for the majority. She cited a 1979 procedural law requiring the board to reject any measures that would violate the district’s antidiscrimination policies.
The dissenting judges said the D.C. Council had overstepped its authority by restricting what kinds of initiatives people could propose without a charter amendment.
“The rights of initiative, referendum, and recall had become part of the Charter, which cannot be amended except by Act of Congress or by going through the Charter Amendment process,” Judge John Fisher wrote.
“If a charter amendment was necessary to create the right of initiative, an amendment is equally necessary to limit that right.”
Chief Judge Eric Washington and Judges Stephen Glickman and Kathryn Oberly joined the dissent.