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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Threat to Gay Marriage in D.C. Won’t Hit High Court

(CN) - The Supreme Court refused on Tuesday to hear a challenge to a law in Washington, D.C., that allows gay and lesbian couples to marry.

A D.C. appeals court had voted 5-4 in July to reject a ballot initiative that would have dismantled the District of Columbia's recognition and eventual legalization of gay marriage.

The District Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics first shot down the legal challenge, finding that the proposed ballot initiative violates D.C.'s Human Rights Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

D.C. passed an amendment in May 2009 that recognized same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Local religious leaders, led by Maryland Bishop Harry Jackson, brought the referendum, which would have amended D.C. law to recognize only heterosexual marriages.

While the ballot initiative's supporters defended the referendum, the D.C. Council passed the Marriage Equality Act, which took effect in March 2010, which recognized and legalized gay marriage in Washington, D.C. - becoming the sixth jurisdiction in the United States to do so.

The elections 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."

A dissent from the court 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."

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