A coalition of faith leaders wants to put a referendum on the November ballot to
allow District of Columbia residents to vote on the definition of marriage.
The Stand4Marriage DC Coalition
filed paperwork with the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics on
Wednesday in hopes of mobilizing citizens to repeal a bill passed last month
legalizing gay marriage in Washington, D.C. The measure has been signed by
Mayor Adrian Fenty and transmitted to Congress, which oversees the district’s
laws, to begin the required 30-day review period.
Photo: Bishop Harry Jackson, chairman of the Stand4MarriageDC Coalition, leads a rally opposing gay marriage in Washington, D.C.
Attorneys for the coalition
said that under district law, once a bill is passed by the council, signed by
the mayor and transmitted to Congress, a referendum may be filed with the
elections board to allow the citizens to vote on the new law.
“The Home Rule Charter gives
D.C. residents the right to the initiative and the referendum process and
authorizes a citywide vote on this issue if petitioned to do so by the people,”
said Cleta Mitchell, an attorney for the Stand4Marriage DC Coalition who
expected a hearing on the proposed referendum to be scheduled within two weeks.
The filing followed a hearing
Wednesday before District of Columbia Superior Court in a lawsuit the coalition filed against the elections
board. The group is seeking to overturn the board’s ruling last fall
denying a separate initiative
that would define marriage
as the union of one man and one woman.
If the elections board decision
were reversed, the coalition would begin gathering the signatures required to
put the initiative on the ballot. A decision in the lawsuit is expected within
“We are confident the court will clear the obstacles to the
citizens initiative powers that have been imposed by the city council-and that
we can begin gathering signatures on our initiative right away,” said
Austin Nimocks, an attorney for the Alliance Defense Fund, which is
representing Stand4Marriage DC.
Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of
Hope Christian Church and chairman of Stand4Marriage DC, is hopeful that both
the initiative and the referendum will be allowed to move forward.
“If both the initiative
and the referendum rights are granted, we will circulate both petitions and
give the voters of the District of Columbia the right to not only block the
recently enacted same-sex marriage bill, but also to establish that only
marriage between one man and one woman will be valid or recognized,” Jackson
“The citizens of the district are legally authorized to make both of
those decisions and we merely seek to empower the voters so they can be able to
exercise their lawmaking authority guaranteed by the D.C. Home Rule
Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz
of Utah, the ranking member of the subcommittee that has oversight over
district laws, said he is doubtful there are enough votes in Congress to strike
down the bill but would like to see district residents vote on marriage.
Chaffetz has said Democrats in
Congress are not interested in trying to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage
Act (DOMA), which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage. But
Jackson worries that gay marriage in the nation’s capital sets a dangerous
Next week, Jackson will convene
several dozen pastors to discuss strategies to prevent gay marriage from
becoming law in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere in the U.S. The mostly
African-American ministers also are expected to lobby Congress to protect DOMA,
which has been challenged unsuccessfully in several recent lawsuits. President
Obama has said he supports its repeal.