Court Sides with City

Judge denies motion to halt marriage-equality law

As expected, a request to delay marriage equality from becoming District law on March 3 was tentatively denied today, Feb. 19, in D.C. Superior Court.

”My tentative ruling is that the court is persuaded by the District, with regard to the absence of authority of the court, to utilize power to usurp the legislative process,” Judge Brian F. Holeman said Friday.

Holeman was referring to a request by Austin R. Nimocks, representing Bishop Harry Jackson and others seeking to delay the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 from going into effect on March 3. The mayor signed the bill Dec. 18, and its currently moving through its congressional-review period.

Nimocks was seeking the delay as his clients pursue a referendum effort on the bill, already denied by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE) on the grounds that the D.C. Human Rights Act prohibits popular votes on the rights of minority groups. The BOEE has in past months rejected similar attempts. The D.C. Superior Court also has rejected an initiative from Jackson’s camp, in January.

Local gay activist Bob Summersgill was in attendance at the hearing, and concluded that the ruling made for a ”very good day.”

”I was expecting this, because you would have to have a really activist judge to create new law that allows them to stay a bill,” he said.

Mark Levine, who serves as the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s pro bono counsel, described the petitioner’s request as a ”last-ditch, last-gasp effort by opponents of marriage equality.”

”It happened exactly as I expected it would,” Levine says. ”I was impressed with the judge. I was impressed by the arguments made by our side. I think that [Nimocks] made the best arguments he could for his side, but he will lose.”

”They’re asking the D.C. Superior Court to stop legislation in its tracks, which has never been done before in the 30-plus years of ‘home rule.’ It’s a pretty extraordinary thing. They’re asking the judge to put his opinion above that of the D.C. Council, and the D.C. mayor, and that of Congress. … He asked specifically, ‘Where is the authority for me to do this?’ And they couldn’t cite any.”

Paul A. Ainsworth, an attorney from Covington and Burling LLP, shared similar sentiment, representing the Campaign for DC Families and two same-sex couples seeking to wed in D.C.

”We’re pleased with the court’s tentative ruling, because we think this is an important victory for our clients and other same-sex couples in the District,” Ainsworth said.

”Every court that has looked at this issue has agreed that this type of ballot measure is inappropriate in the District of Columbia. We don’t put the rights of minorities up for vote.”

Jackson was not at the Friday hearing.

Holeman set a follow-up meeting for Friday, Feb. 26, though Levine and Summersgill both agree that that meeting will probably be cancelled.

”It’s very likely that everyone will say we don’t want the meeting on Friday on the merits of the referendum, because it can’t move forward if it’s out of time,” Levine says. ”That also would give the proponents more time to appeal to the appellate court.”

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