- The Washington Times - Friday, June 19, 2009

Opponents of same-sex marriage in the District asked a judge Thursday to delay implementation of a law recognizing such unions performed in other jurisdictions.

The unusual request was an attempt to salvage a referendum effort that would put the question of gay marriage before city voters.

Without intervention by Congress or the courts, the legislation passed by the D.C. Council last month is set to go into effect early next month — the end of the required congressional review period.

“Unless the clock is stopped, people will effectively be declined an opportunity to vote on this issue,” said Brian Raum of the Alliance Defense Fund, who is serving as counsel for the referendum supporters.

In an initial hearing Thursday, Judge Judith E. Retchin said she was not certain whether the court had the authority to freeze legislation and called it “astounding that this issue has not come up before.”

The petitioners are filing a motion for a preliminary injunction on Monday. City officials said they would respond Wednesday.

The judge said she will only consider whether to put a hold on the implementation of the law, not whether the board was justified in rejecting the referendum.

“If the court determines it has legal authority to stay the date of legislation, then we will get to the issue of lawfulness of the board of election decision,” she said.

A “stay” on the legislation is necessary for referendum supporters to collect more than 20,000 valid signatures — or 5 percent of the registered voters in the city — before the law takes effect.

The elections board rejected the referendum because it said its contents would violate the 1977 D.C. Human Rights Act.

Referendum supporters argue that same-sex marriage should not be considered a civil right under the act and filed a lawsuit on Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court seeking to overturn the boards decision. Among the seven petitioners were 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 Districts first nonvoting congressional delegate.

Brian Flowers, general counsel for the D.C. Council — who is not involved in the case at this time but might file a motion to intervene — said the referendum proponents’ strategy in court Thursday was “very unexpected.”

Mr. Flowers also said referendum proponents had plenty of time to file a proposal for a referendum, but they are running out of time because they waited until May 27 to file their paperwork.

“They waited over two weeks to file the referendum, and now theyre saying they dont have enough time,” he said.

The referendum proponents argued that the D.C. Council introduced the provision recognizing same-sex marriage in a stealth manner by amending another bill, but Mr. Flowers said opponents of same-sex marriage were “well aware” of the timing of legislation, pointing to rallies organized by Mr. Jackson in April objecting to such a bill.


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