Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The group behind an unsuccessful effort to get the D.C. elections board to put the issue of same-sex marriage to a referendum plans to challenge the board’s decision in D.C. Superior Court on Wednesday.

Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, who led the referendum effort in the District, said proponents plan to request a hearing with the D.C. Superior Court. According to D.C. law, the group has 10 days to challenge the elections board’s decision in court.

“We want to make sure the people get a vote. That’s why were appealing it,” Mr. Jackson said. “The people of the District of Columbia need to be heard.”

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics on Monday rejected a call to allow voters to weigh in on whether the city should recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, ruling that the referendum would have violated the Human Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.

D.C. Attorney General Peter J. Nickles said his office would defend the board’s ruling in court.

“We will defend their position, and I believe we’ll win in any litigation that is brought,” he said.

The D.C. Council last month passed the bill recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. The bill is widely thought to be a precursor to another bill that would allow same-sex marriages to be performed in the District.

Mr. Jackson said he thought the elections board was predisposed against the referendum.

“We believe that we have tremendous case of law in our favor, but we thought that the initial review at the board of election was a little bit of joke,” Mr. Jackson said. “It seemed like they listened, but didn’t hear.”

The group is requesting “expedited consideration of the matter,” and Mr. Jackson said he expects to hear whether a judge will grant a hearing within the next few days.

But even if a court reverses the board’s decision, time is running out for referendum supporters to collect more than 20,000 valid signatures - or 5 percent of registered voters in the city - before a congressional review period on the bill ends in early July.

Mr. Jackson said that if his group is victorious in court, he would request an extension so his organization could collect the necessary signatures.

“We’ve exhausted all of our possibilities thus far, and we think, because this is going to be one of the major issues of the next decade, that it would be important for the people to get to weigh in on it,” Mr. Jackson said.

“We’re sort of like somebody who has come into a house and all the lights have been turned out, and you’re trying to find where the emergency light switch is.”

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