Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A D.C. Superior Court judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit seeking to delay the implementation of a law recognizing same-sex marriages performed in jurisdictions outside the District and rejected efforts to bring the issue before voters.

The lawsuit was an attempt to salvage a referendum drive that would have put the question of same-sex marriage on the ballot.

Judge Judith E. Retchin said the Board of Elections and Ethics correctly concluded that the proposed referendum would violate the District’s Human Rights Act. The judge also said the plaintiffs failed to meet the standards required for an injunction to delay the law’s effective date.

“At bottom, the harm about which petitioners complain is not based on a denial of the right to referendum. Rather, they simply disagree with legislation enacted by our duly-elected council,” Judge Retchin wrote in the 15-page opinion. “A citizens disagreement with constitutionally sound legislation, whether based on political, religious or moral views, does not rise to the level of an actionable harm.

The plaintiffs, seven D.C. residents led by Bishop Harry R. Jackson of the Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, said they were disappointed by the decision.

“Essentially, today, the D.C. residents have been disenfranchised and unable to vote on an important public policy matter, because political elites would rather serve a radical agenda than the people they represent,” Mr. Jackson said.

Mr. Jackson said the petitioners would likely attempt to continue their opposition to gay marriage in the city through an initiative that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. An initiative is a citizen-led effort to propose a law and differs from a referendum, which is an effort to repeal an existing law.

Without intervention by Congress, the legislation passed by the D.C. Council in May is set to go into effect on Monday — the end of the required congressional review period. The law is widely considered to be a precursor to another bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the District.

Petitioners argued that the District deliberately stifled debate on the issue by introducing the provision recognizing same-sex marriage in a stealth manner by amending another bill.

Judge Retchin rejected the argument, saying there was “no reason to believe that an interested citizen diligently following the issue could not have learned about its consideration by the council.”

Mr. Jackson vowed to carry on the legal challenge to same-sex marriage in the District.

“We will exhaust all our legal options until the voice of the people is heard,” said Mr. Jackson, who said he could not comment on whether his group would seek another referendum in the fall.

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