Yesterday the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics rejected Bishop Harry Jackson's efforts to put recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states to a referendum. The reason the referendum was rejected was because the proposed law would go against D.C.'s comprehensive human rights law that says proposed laws that would have the purpose or effect of discriminating against people based on sexual orientation can't be passed by referendum. The GLAA, a local gay rights group, lobbied hard to get the language regarding sexual orientation placed in the law in the 1970s, anticipating just this kind of situation.
What needs to be understood here is this is the exact inverse of the situation in California--there the law was on the side of anti-marriage equality activists. Here, the letter of the law completely favors the marriage equality side. D.C. law strictly prohibits putting laws that are potentially discriminatory against certain groups to a popular vote, if the referendum had been allowed to go through, the law would have been meaningless.
In an example of sublime historical irony, the BOEE noted in its ruling yesterday that it was Marion Barry, the only D.C. Councilmember to vote against the recognition law, who placed the language in the original law regarding sexual orientation saying that the referendum process could never be used to "interfere with basic human and civil rights." Talk about a long game--the Marion Barry of 1978 defeated the Marion Barry of 2009.
As I reported last week, pending the results of a court battle (Greg Scott of the Alliance Defense Fund, which is representing the Jackson camp, confirmed to me this morning that they plan to appeal the board's ruling) the fight over marriage equality in D.C. may be over. Our system of government favors bureaucratic inertia, all Congress has to do to let marriage equality happen in D.C. is nothing. Staffers for Democrats on the relevant committees in Congress have told me they have no intention of interfering with the D.C. City Council's decision. The D.C. Council will likely be considering full marriage equality within the year. The only hope for anti-marriage-equality activists seems to be for Congress to rally around the D.C. DOMA Act or similar legislation, and right now that seems unlikely.
-- A. Serwer
Photo of marriage equality protest in 2008 used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Scubaben.
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