Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics on Tuesday denied a petition to put a ballot initiative before city voters that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.

The decision came the same day the D.C. Council scheduled a Dec. 1 initial vote on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

The two-member elections board said it could not accept the Marriage Initiative of 2009, filed by the Stand4MarriageDC coalition, because it “authorizes discrimination prohibited under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.” About 100 people testified during a hearing on the initiative last month.

“We have considered all of the testimony presented to the board and understand the desire to place this question on the ballot,” board Chairman Errol R. Arthur said. “However, the laws of the District of Columbia preclude us from allowing this initiative to move forward.”

Bishop Harry Jackson, the lead sponsor of the initiative and the senior pastor at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, said the board denied the city’s residents their rights.

“This undemocratic decision is outrageous and a slap in the face of every resident of the District of Columbia,” Mr. Jackson said. “To deny the people their fundamental right to vote on such an important issue as the definition of marriage in our society is simply appalling.”

The city passed a law earlier this year recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.

D.C. Council member David A. Catania, who introduced the bill to legalize same-sex marriages - the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 - commended the elections board’s decision.

“The proposed initiative would have stripped legally married same-sex couples of their vows,” Mr. Catania said. “Those who proposed the initiative were attempting to write discrimination into our law, and I am pleased that the board rejected this effort as an impermissible trespass on the human rights of District residents.

Mr. Catania’s bill would expand current laws to allow such marriages to be performed in the District.

Currently, four states sanction same-sex marriages, and New Hampshire is scheduled to begin allowing gay marriages in 2010.

Earlier this month, Maine residents voted to repeal a law passed in that state that recognized gay marriages. California voters also struck down same-sex marriages after the courts sanctioned them.

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