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DC judge says no delay or ballot on Gay marriage
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DC judge says no delay or ballot on Gay marriage

by Chuck Colbert - Keen News Service

In a yet another win for Gay civil rights advocates, a District of Columbia Superior Court judge Tuesday, June 30, denied a request for an injunction to delay the effective date of new same-sex marriage recognition law. This means DC can start legally recognizing same-sex marriages from other states and countries next week, becoming the first jurisdiction to do so in the South.

A group of ministers led by Maryland minister Bishop Harry Jackson organized the effort to seek a referendum on the new law called the "Jury & Marriage Amendment Act of 2009."

After the District's Board of Elections and Ethics ruled June 15 that the referendum would be improper, the group took its fight to the court.

But Superior Court Judge Judith Retchin upheld the elections board decision that said the referendum would violate a provision of the city's human rights law that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"The harm about which petitioners complain is not based on a denial of the right to referendum," Retchin wrote in her ruling. "Rather, they simply disagree with legislation enacted by our duly-elected [D.C. City] Council. A citizen's disagreement with constitutionally sound legislation, whether based on political, religious or moral views, does not rise to the level of an actionable harm."

The judge added that the elections board correctly concluded that the proposed referendum would violate the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.

The court decision means that same-sex couples with valid marriage licenses from states which treat straight and Gay couples equally will be recognized as legally married in D. C. as early as this month.

The importance of the court's decision was not lost on Bradley Reichard and Michael Shannon, Massachusetts residents currently residing in the Washington, D.C. area.

"When we first moved to the District, we understood that our civil marriage from Massachusetts would not be recognized," said Reichard. "What we underestimated - especially after living as a married couple for four years - was the exposure we felt by not being protected by civil marriage's full status."

"We're grateful that the D.C. City Council, the elections board, and now the court acknowledged and respected our basic human and civil rights," said Reichard.

Under the District's elections laws, a referendum cannot appear on the ballot if it violates the city's 1977 Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. In its decision, the elections board said the proposed ballot measure would "authorize discrimination."

"It's another great day for D.C.," said Rick Rosendall, a spokesperson for the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, an advocacy group.

The two decisions nudge marriage equality momentum forward, nationally. Currently, six states - Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont - license or are set to begin licensing same-sex marriages.

The District's recognition of same-sex marriage is the first time same-sex marriages will be recognized in the nation's capital and in the south.

"The marriage movement is not just a local issue," said David Crawford, executive director of D.C. for Marriage, a newly forming grassroots Gay civil rights advocacy group. Same-sex marriage recognition in the nation's capital holds "symbolic" significance here and around the world, he said.

Marriage momentum accelerated in the capital on May 5 when the District's city council approved (by a vote of 12-1) a bill to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

The next day, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the bill, sending it to Capitol Hill, where its required 30-day congressional review began ticking May 11. Under the District's home rule charter, all laws passed by city council are subject to approval or rejection by the House and Senate.

The decisions by the elections board and the court suggest that now only Congress can derail same-sex marriage recognition. But the likelihood of that happening seems to have diminished. In Congress, there is, so far, no move in the Senate to undo the D.C. law, according to Anthony Coley, an aide to Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). In the House, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement last month after the Council vote, saying Congress "should not interfere" with the District's governance.

There are, however, two bills circulating in the House, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a national Gay political organization. One, introduced last month by U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) along with 33 co-sponsors, seeks to "define marriage for all legal purposes in the District of Columbia to consist of the union of one man and one woman." The second bill is a resolution to formally "disapprove" of the D. C. Council and mayor's decision to recognize same-sex marriages licensed elsewhere. Introduced by U.S. Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), the resolution is the first step toward having Congress overturn the District's law.

Nonetheless, HRC's senior public policy advocate, David Stacy, said it would be difficult for same-sex marriage opponents to muster the 218-vote threshold for a "discharge petition" in order to force a vote on the resolution.

"Conventional wisdom is there will not be enough time for a discharge petition," said Drew Hammil, a spokesperson for Speaker Pelosi. He said opponents could also "try to target the District" later on this summer, through the D. C. "appropriations process," a last-ditch effort to stymie full implementation of same-sex marriage recognition by cutting off any funds for its enforcement or implementation.

Meanwhile, the deadline for Congress to act on the D.C. law - July 6 - is closing in fast, with same-sex marriage recognition expected to take effect in the District on the next day, July 7.

© 2009 Keen News Service

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