Supreme Court Rejects D.C. Marriage Challenge

By Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Jan 18, 2011
Washington Blade

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an order today denying a request by a local minister to consider a case seeking to force the District of Columbia to allow voters to decide whether to repeal the city’s same-sex marriage law.

The order, which did not include any statement or opinion, ends the effort by Bishop Harry Jackson and other local opponents of same-sex marriage to go through the courts to impose a ballot measure calling for overturning the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009, which legalized same-sex marriage in the District.

None of the Supreme Court’s nine justices issued a dissent in their unanimous determination not to take the case.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court turned down Bishop Jackson’s request for review of the Court of Appeals decision on marriage equality,” said Peter Rosenstein, president of the Campaign for All D.C. Families, the local group that campaigned for passage of the marriage equality law.

“This confirms our belief that what the D.C. Council did is both legal and just,” he said. “Equality will not be denied.”
Rosenstein was referring to a decision last October by the D.C. Court of Appeals that upheld an earlier ruling by the city’s Board of Elections and Ethics to reject a voter initiative proposed by Jackson and other same-sex marriage opponents calling for repealing the marriage equality law.

In the case known as Jackson v. the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, Jackson sought to force the city to hold a voter initiative that, if approved, would repeal the same-sex marriage law and replace it with a new law defining marriage in the District as a union only between a man and a woman.

The Court of Appeals decision stated that D.C. City Council acted within its authority under the city’s congressionally mandated Home Rule Charter when it imposed certain restrictions more than 30 years ago on the types of initiatives and referenda that could be placed on the ballot.

Among the restrictions adopted then was a ban on ballot measures that, if approved by voters, violate the non-discrimination provisions of the D.C. Human Rights Act. The act, among other things, bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Jackson and a team of lawyers representing him argued that Council violated the Home Rule Charter by adopting the ballot measure restrictions.

The Supreme Court today rejected Jackson’s request for a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, which asked the court to hear the case to enable Jackson to appeal the ruling of the D.C. Court of Appeals. By denying that request, the Supreme Court allowed the Court of Appeals decision to permanently remain in effect.

“Today’s action by the Supreme Court makes abundantly clear that D.C.’s human rights protections are strong enough to withstand the hateful efforts by outside anti-LGBT groups to put people’s basic civil rights on the ballot,” said Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign.

“For almost two years, the National Organization for Marriage and the Alliance Defense Fund, along with Bishop Harry Jackson, have fought a losing battle to shamelessly harm gay and lesbian couples in D.C. who seek nothing more than to share in the rights and responsibilities of marriage,” Solmonese said.
According to the Supreme Court’s public docket, the nine justices deliberated over whether to hear the Jackson case in a private conference held last Friday. Under longstanding court rules, the justices usually announce a decision on whether to accept or reject a case on the next business day following such a conference.

With the Supreme Court denying Jackson’s court challenge to the same-sex marriage law, marriage equality opponents are expected to take their fight back to Congress by resuming earlier requests for Congress to either overturn the D.C. marriage law or to impose a new law forcing the city hold a ballot measure to allow voters to decide the issue.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), who chairs the committee that shepherded the same-sex marriage law through the Council in 2009, said city voters have demonstrated through the city’s 2010 primary and general election that the marriage law was not a pressing issue for them.

He noted that despite promises by same-sex marriage opponents to work for the defeat of all Council members who voted for the marriage law, just a few candidates opposing the law surfaced in the elections and all of them lost by lopsided margins.

“They’ve lost in the courts, they lost overwhelmingly in the Council 12 to 1 [when the marriage bill came up for a vote in December 2009], and they lost at the ballot box,” he said. “Now they’ve lost their last chance, their last gasp in the judicial system.”
Jackson couldn’t be immediately reach for comment.

Rev. Anthony Evans, a D.C. minister who is working with Jackson to overturn the D.C. same-sex marriage law, called the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the Jackson case “a travesty of justice.”

“This law was forced down the church’s throat and what the Supreme Court has set up is the greatest civil war between the church and the gay community,” Evans said. “And let me just state for the record, we don’t want that fight. We love our gay brothers and sisters. But if the Supreme Court is not going to acknowledge the fact that we have a right as religious people to have a say-so in the framework of religious ethics for our culture and society, then we reject the Supreme Court on this issue.”

Supporters of the same-sex marriage law have noted that large numbers of local religious leaders from all denominations, including black churches, came out in support of the law. Many have begun peforming same-sex marriages.

Evans, an official with the D.C.-based National Black Church Initiative, said local same-sex marriage opponents have began discussions with “our Republican friends” in Congress to take steps to challenge the D.C. marriage law. He declined to disclose further details but said he and others opposed to the marriage law lobbied GOP leaders on the Hill to strip congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) of her voting privileges on the House floor.

Since Republicans took control of the House earlier this month, GOP leaders revoked Norton’s limited floor voting privileges that Democrats gave her when they took control of the House in 2007. House GOP leaders also revoked the limited voting privileges for delegates representing U.S. territories and Puerto Rico.
“[O]ur first action was to make sure that Eleanor didn’t get a vote as punishment for her wholehearted support for same-sex marriage in this city and also for her to ignore the black religious community,” Evans said. “There is a consequence to her actions. That was one of them.”

A Norton spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.

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