- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 28, 2009

Opponents of same-sex marriage in the District say they have filed a petition with the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics requesting that city legislation granting legal recognition to the unions be put to a vote.

The Stand 4 Marriage D.C. Coalition, led primarily by Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, filed a request for a referendum with the board Wednesday. The petition comes a day after the California Supreme Court upheld a November ballot measure approved by voters that amended the state constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

“The recognition of same-sex marriages in the District of Columbia is a bad idea for our citizens,” said Bishop Jackson, a D.C. resident. “At a minimum, it should not be allowed without the approval of voters.”

The coalition hopes to block a bill passed earlier this month by the D.C. Council that recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions as legally valid. The measure - which sparked opposition among the area’s religious community and has been sent to Congress for review - also is seen as a precursor to the council taking up legislation that would permit same-sex marriages to be performed in the nation’s capital.

After election officials receive the referendum request, city regulations call for the three-member board to begin its multistep process by holding a public meeting and determining whether the subject is fit to be brought before voters.

A referendum subject cannot appropriate funds, violate the city’s Home Rule Charter, negate a budget act or violate the District’s Human Rights Act, according to the board.

If the subject is approved, legislative language is drawn up. Assuming the proposal passes any challenges, its proponents eventually would have 180 days to gather thousands of signatures supporting their cause. The signatures are subject to validation by the board.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, one of 12 lawmakers who voted for the recognition measure and one of two openly gay council members, said proponents of the same-sex marriage measure are “prepared to carry this fight wherever we have to go.”

He said officials should “respect the process” even if it leads to a referendum, but stressed the need to research the request to find out whether it’s a legal subject to be put before voters.

“Assuming it is lawful and compliant, then we’ll carry the fight,” said Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat. “But if it’s not then it shouldn’t be in a referendum.”

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat who introduced the amendment granting recognition of same-sex marriages, also said he doesn’t think a referendum to block the bill would be successful in the city.

“People are equal, period - not equal as long as the voters say they’re equal,” Mr. Mendelson said.

Opponents of the city’s recent action on same-sex marriage include the Rev. Walter E. Fauntroy, who stepped down earlier this year as pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Northwest.

“I part company with advocates of gay rights when it comes to assigning the title ‘marriage’ to a same-sex union,” said Mr. Fauntroy, a friend of Martin Luther King and an organizer of the 1963 March on Washington who served as the District’s non-voting representative in Congress.

“In my well-considered view, it is neither logical nor fair to reward citizens with financial benefits when they cannot perform the tasks for which the benefits are given,” he said.

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