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DC Superior Court upholds Board of Elections and Ethics’ rejection of anti-marriage equality initiative

(WASHINGTON D.C.) The D.C. Superior Court today, for the second time, rejected a proposed initiative to roll back legislation passed by the D.C. Council extending marriage in the District to same-sex couples. In June, a D.C. Superior Court judge rejected a similar lawsuit with the same intent – to force a public vote on legislation that, at the time, allowed D.C. to recognize marriages by same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions.

Today’s ruling upheld the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics’ ruling rejecting the proposed initiative as an improper subject matter for a public vote. The lawsuit was brought by several national anti-gay activists and backed by thirty-nine Republican members of Congress. The legislation extending marriage rights to same-sex couples in the District is set to become effective at the conclusion of the Congressional review period, likely in early March.

In her decision, Judith N. Macaluso determined that the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled properly that the proposed initiative would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act. Under D.C. law, no ballot initiative may authorize discrimination under the Human Rights Act, which, among other things, prohibits the government from denying services or benefits based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Petitioners had argued that D.C.’s human rights protections dating back to 1979 were invalid; however, Judge Macaluso ruled that the D.C. Council acted within its legal authority when it adopted these vital anti-discrimination provisions.

"The Campaign for All D.C. Families appreciates the court’s affirmation of the decision of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics that a vote by the majority on the rights of a minority is not appropriate under D.C. law," said Aisha Mills, President of the Campaign for All DC Families, a diverse coalition of District of Columbia residents working to secure and preserve civil marriage equality.

The Campaign for All D.C. Families, along with D.C. Clergy United and four same-sex couples, participated in the case as amicus curiae in support of the Board of Elections and Ethics and the District.

Said Minister Dennis Wiley, Pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, "As a minister who’s been serving the community for over 40 years, I am pleased that the D.C. Superior Court has upheld the right of the D.C. Council to prohibit discrimination in our community. I think this decision will be a unifying moment that helps bring healing to many families in the District. Gay and lesbian families are an integral part of our community and our church."

"This moment is a sigh of relief for me, my partner, and my family,” said Reggie Stanley, another amicus curiae participant. "My partner and I have long waited for the right to marry here in the District. This is our home. We work here, we raise our children here, and we are pleased that our love and commitment will now be fully recognized in the District that we call home."

The Human Rights Campaign is also applauding the ruling.

“This second, back-to-back ruling by the D.C. Superior Court is an overwhelming victory for fairness, the rule of law and the protection of all D.C. residents against discrimination,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “D.C. has the right to govern itself and make its own laws without the interference of thirty-nine Republican members of Congress, more interested in scoring cheap political points than in the everyday lives of D.C. residents. As D.C. law justifiably recognizes, no initiative should be permitted to strip away any individual’s civil rights. It is heartening that two different judges upheld the anti-discrimination protections wisely enacted by the Council more than thirty years ago. ”

The D.C. marriage law is likely to become effective on March 2, 2009.