WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court handed traditional marriage supporters a disappointing loss Jan. 18, declining to take up a case in which the District of Columbia refused to allow citizens to vote on an initiative defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
“Gay marriage” has been legal in the nation’s capital since March 2010, and a group of conservative leaders has wanted to gather signatures for an initiative that would define marriage in the traditional sense and overturn the law. But while the city’s charter allows voters to gather signatures for initiatives, the D.C. Board of Elections rejected all attempts at an initiative defining marriage, saying it would violate the city’s Human Rights Act and “authorize discrimination” against homosexuals. The charter is the city’s equivalent to a constitution.
Then-Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the “gay marriage” legislation into law in 2009 after it passed the D.C. Council.
Conservatives had hoped the Supreme Court would at least take up the case after a closely divided lower court, the D.C. Appeals Court, issued a 5-4 decision in July allowing the board of elections’ action to stand. But the Supreme Court, without comment, declined to take up the case, known as Jackson v. D.C. Board of Elections.
The board’s actions have been particularly frustrating for D.C. conservatives who have watched citizens in other states — such as California and Maine — successfully place the issue on the ballot. Such an initiative defining marriage has never lost.
The suit was brought by D.C.-area pastor Harry Jackson, former D.C. delegate Walter Fauntroy and others who were represented by attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund and StandforMarriageDC.com. A January 2010 Washington Post poll found that 59 percent of residents — including 70 percent of the city’s black citizens — believed the “issue should be put on a city-wide ballot.”
“In America, we respect the right to vote. That right is explicitly protected by the D.C. Charter, but the government has succeeded for now in suppressing the voice of D.C. citizens,” said Austin R. Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund. “We had hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would restore this guaranteed right in the district. … We will remain diligent in looking for other legal opportunities to protect and defend the right of all D.C. residents to have their voices heard as the D.C. Charter clearly intended.”
The four justices who dissented in the July D.C. Appeals Court decision said they sympathized with “gay marriage” supporters but felt the D.C. Council — which has authority over the Board of Elections — “exceeded its authority.”
“If the Council’s powers are as broad as they assert, what is to preclude the Council from imposing additional subject matter limitations on the right of initiative or, indeed, from extinguishing that right altogether?” Chief Judge Eric Washington asked in the dissent. “It appears that a candid answer to that question would be ‘nothing.’ Yet, under our ‘constitutional’ principles, a Charter right may not be limited or extinguished by ordinary legislation. That may be done only by going through the intentionally-cumbersome process of amending the Charter.”
Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press last year that controversy should serve as a warning against the “incremental strategy” used by homosexual activists.
“The [D.C. Appeals Court] based its decision on the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and other factors,” Duke said. “The act itself, of course, never mentions that it could be applied to same-sex marriage. It was originally promoted and is written as if it applies solely to such things as employment and housing discrimination. But the radical homosexual activists knew that the language of the act could be applied to other homosexual agenda issues as well.”
Duke added, “What happened in D.C. should serve as a reminder to people across the country that the agenda of the radical homosexual movement is to force on the American public complete acceptance of homosexuality and that it is committed to achieving that goal through slow incremental progress that hides the full extent of its motives until it is too late.”
“Gay marriage” is legal in D.C. and five states: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Iowa.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. The Southern Baptist Convention has a ministry to homosexuals. Find more information at www.sbcthewayout.com.