Metro Weekly

Referendum Wrap-Up

Effort to put marriage-recognition on the ballot ends in favor of marriage equality

Over the past several weeks, Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., has been speaking, rallying and even officiating a wedding on Freedom Plaza, all to express disapproval of marriage equality.

Those efforts led to a Wednesday, June 10, hearing at the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE), at which Jackson and his supporters, as well as opponents, offered testimony regarding his proposed referendum seeking to place the City Council’s 12-1 May 5 vote to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions on a D.C. ballot.

The next day, June 11, D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles sent an opinion to the DCBOEE advising the board to reject the proposed referendum, citing the D.C. Human Rights Act’s (HRA) prohibition against sexual-orientation discrimination, in part.

Monday, June 15, the DCBOEE did just that, rejecting the referendum for violating the HRA. That’s good news for DC for Marriage, a program of The DC Center, working for marriage equality.

”I think it was a very reasonable decision that’s very much in line with the human-rights laws that we have here in the District,” says Kellan Baker, co-chair of DC for Marriage. ”I’m not surprised, but certainly very happy.”

Baker says the DCBOEE decision may help push marriage equality in D.C. closer to reality, beyond the referendum question.

”I think that it’s a good moment for us to move forward and really drive home the fact that it’s not a tenable practice to put human rights up to a vote, to allow a majority to rule on the rights of a minority, like what happened in California. I hope we can capitalize on that momentum.”

Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At large), who introduced the legislation recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions, and who attended the June 10 meeting to testify against the proposed referendum, shares Baker’s enthusiasm with the DCBOEE’s decision.

”As I and many others stated when we testified in front of the Board last week, civil rights should not be subject to a referendum,” Mendelson offered in a prepared statement.

”I applaud this decision, as it was based firmly in the tradition of the District’s own progressive Human Rights Act. Recognizing marriages lawfully entered into in other jurisdictions is logical and just. It is unacceptable for government to sanction discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientation.”

While the District does not offer marriage equality for D.C. residents, it does offer domestic partnerships. The Mendelson legislation, opposed by Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) alone, and signed by Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) May 6, is expected to complete its congressional review period early next month with no action on the part of Congress, thus becoming law.

For more about DC for Marriage, visit the group online at, or call The DC Center at 202-682-2245.

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