- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2009

Opponents of same-sex marriage in the District filed a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court Wednesday seeking to overturn the city election board’s decision to reject their referendum proposal.

“This Court should uphold the people’s right of referendum, and give the people the opportunity to protect its long-established understanding of marriage as being a legal union between a man and a woman rather than deferring to the laws of other jurisdictions regarding the definition of marriage,” says the lawsuit, filed against the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics by seven D.C. residents.

The elections board rejected the referendum on the basis that it would have violated the 1977 D.C. Human Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on sexual orientation. In the motion, the group argues that same-sex marriage should not be considered a civil right protected under the act.

The motion cites Dean v. District of Columbia, a 1995 case in which the D.C. Court of Appeals supported the District’s refusal to issue a marriage license to a gay couple. Ruling in favor of the District, the judge noted that the D.C. Human Rights Act had not been enacted to change the definition of marriage, according to the motion.

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.

Among the seven petitioners filing for a hearing are Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr. of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, who led the referendum effort in the District, and the Rev. Walter Fauntroy, the District’s first congressional delegate.

The group said in the court filing that the elections board, in rejecting the referendum, kept D.C. residents from exercising what they consider to be a fundamental right. The plaintiffs also criticized the D.C. Council, saying the measure was passed without adequate public input.

“The D.C. Council is actively fighting against allowing the people of D.C. to have any part in what is likely the biggest public policy debate of our time - the propriety of recognizing of same-sex ‘marriages,’ ” the motion says.

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

Leah Gurowitz, a District courts spokeswoman, said an initial hearing date of Sept. 15 was assigned to the case. Once the court receives word that the District has been served with the lawsuit, a judge will review the motion and determine whether to grant an expedited hearing.

But even if the 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 will request an extension so that his organization can collect the necessary signatures.

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