Metro Weekly

Judge Sides with City

Superior Court rules against Stand4Marriage initiative effort

D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith Macaluso ruled this afternoon, Jan. 14, that the initiative sought by Bishop Harry Jackson on behalf of the Stand4Marriage D.C. Coalition to limit marriage in the District to one man and one woman is not an allowed topic for a ballot measure.

The ruling upholds the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (BOEE) decision this past fall that District law prohibits initiatives that would have the effect of violating the D.C. Human Rights Act (HRA). As Macaluso today wrote for the court, ”the initiative would deprive only same-sex individuals of the legal status, rights, and privileges they enjoy as married persons.” Because that is a clear violation of the HRA, the court found, ”The Board properly rejected the proposed initiative on this ground.”

The main issue in the case is whether the Initiative, Referendum and Recall Procedures Act (IPA), which included the HRA restriction on initiatives, implemented the Charter Amendments Act (CAA) or amended it. As the Court noted, ”If the IPA merely carried out the purpose of the CAA when requiring initiatives to comply with the Human Rights Act, the requirement is valid.” The court, after more than eight pages of analysis, determined that the IPA Human Rights Act restriction ”is consistent with the intent of the CAA and does not impermissibly create a new exception to the initiative right.”

Because of that, the BOEE was correct, the court found, to reject the proposed initiative because of the violation of the Human Rights Act it would create.

The court also found agreement with the other argument put forth by the District, that ”the initiative runs afoul of an implied exclusion barring provisions that violates the state’s law.”

Finally, the court mentioned, Dean v. District of Columbia, the 1995 ruling from the D.C. Court of Appeals rejecting an argument that same-sex couples were not excluded from marriage. The court found that changes made to District law since then mean that ”Dean’s holding is no longer controlling.”

Tom Williamson of Covington Burling LLP, counsel for the Campaign for All D.C. Families, said in a statement,” Macaluso applied the law impartially in this case, recognizing the D.C. Council’s right to define the initiative process consistent with the D.C. Charter.”

Williamson said, ”The decision upholds the Council’s right to broadly protect human rights for all District residents.”

The ruling, which comes only eight days after Macaluso heard arguments in court on the matter, is almost certain to be appealed to the D.C. Court of Appeals. This ruling was unrelated to the referendum that was filed by Jackson’s group Wednesday, Jan. 6.

Chris Geidner is a lawyer who writes at ‘Law Dork‘, voted the Best Law Blog in 2005, and has written for The Atlantic Online, and Salon. You also can follow him on ‘Twitter‘.