Referendum Rumble

Board of Elections hears arguments regarding proposed marriage referendum

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics this morning, Wednesday, June 10, heard arguments from both sides in a contentious fight regarding recent legislation to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions. In question is whether a referendum sought by Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., is eligible to be put before District residents. The City Council voted 12-1 in favor of the legislation May 5, which Mayor Adrian Fenty signing it the following day. The measure is expected to pass its congressional overview period without interference, making it law next month. Jackson hopes to prevent that.

The Wednesday morning meeting allowed for public comment as the DCBOEE decides whether or not Jackson’s proposed referendum passes muster. Among the hurdles Jackson must clear is that his referendum would not violate the D.C. Human Rights Act, which, among other things, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

”When the City Council members Â… passed the measure to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, its author promised that it was the first step in recognizing gay marriage within the year,” Jackson told the standing-room only crowd at DCBOEE’s hearing room at 1 Judiciary Square. “This development was the catalyst in my efforts to mobilize the community throughout the District and region.”

While Councilmember David Catania (I-At large) has discussed introducing marriage-equality legislation at some point, he has not set a date, nor was he at the DCBOEE hearing. Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who did introduce the legislation, was there. He told the DCBOEE that while he could not speak to Jackson’s assertions of his legislation being a step toward marriage equality in the District, he assured the board that the Council considered his bill thoughtfully, and that he considered it a matter of civil rights.

Mark Levine, of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, pressed the point of Jackson’s referendum violating the Human Rights Act.

”The purpose of the prohibition against a referendum on minority rights is to say not that the people of D.C. don’t have their say, but they have their say through their elected representatives,” Levine said. ”And if they don’t like the law, then they’re welcome to elect someone else.”

Though Levine and Mendelson were joined by several other members and allies of the GLBT community, such as Philip Pannell and Rick Rosendall, if applause was an accurate measure, it seemed that Jackson at least had the numbers on his side, including Leroy Swailes, who identified himself as an Oxon Hill, Md., resident and argued that the referendum would not violate the Human Rights Act in that gay people are not human.

The DCBOEE ended the meeting by setting a 5 p.m., Thursday, June 11, deadline for written testimony on the matter to be submitted.

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