The District of Columbia Court of
Appeals heard arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit seeking a ballot initiative to
allow Washington, D.C., residents to vote on the definition of marriage.
If passed, the ballot initiative,
filed by leaders with the Stand4MarriageDC Coalition, would repeal a law passed
in December legalizing gay marriage in the district. The law went into effect
“This hearing is of extreme importance to D.C. voters,” said Bishop Harry Jackson,
chairman of Stand4MarriageDC, a coalition of faith leaders and district residents. “As D.C. residents and voters have
witnessed in the past year, the D.C. government has repeatedly rebuffed the
people’s efforts to put the definition of marriage to a vote of the people.”
The case dates back to September
2009, when Jackson and other district residents filed the Marriage Initiative of 2009 to allow voters to decide whether
marriage would be defined as the union of one man and one woman.
district’s Board of Elections rejected the initiative, saying the measure would
violate the Human Rights Act because the city council passed a law in May 2009 recognizing
same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
Stand4MarriageDC, represented by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), appealed the
decision, arguing that the district charter guarantees citizens the right to
initiate and vote on any legislation except budget items.
January, the District of Columbia Superior Court upheld the election board’s
Tuesday’s hearing was before the
full appeals court, though it is rare for all of the judges to hear a case
before it has been heard by a three-judge appeals panel. ADF
senior legal counsel Austin Nimocks, who gave oral arguments Tuesday, believes
the appeals court is interested in the case because it is about more than
“This is about the fundamental right to vote,” Nimocks told Charisma.
“The citizens of D.C. are trying to exercise that fundamental right. That’s why
the Court of Appeals is interested in this case … and we’re very hopeful they
will uphold that very fundamental premise, that the citizens have the right to
exercise their voice.”
Traditional marriage has been upheld in all 31 states where the definition
of marriage has been put to a vote. A January Washington Post poll found
that 56 percent of district residents support gay marriage, though 59 percent
think the issue should be put before voters.
“[Voters] don’t see the same danger that this council does,” said Chuck
Donovan, senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation’s DeVos
Center for Religion and Civil Society. “The council seems to be concerned the
public will contradict it, and there’s a record of that, that legislators have
come out ahead of what the people want.”
Donovan said denying a referendum based on the Human Rights Act could open a
Pandora’s box. “At the end of the day, if anything can be categorized by the
city council as human rights that can include everything from pay raises for
members of the council to parking meter fees or medical marijuana,” he said.
“Lots of things could be called human rights that people want to debate.”
appeals court is expected to rule on the case later this year.