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D.C.'s Evolving Human Rights Law

The District denies a popular vote on same-sex marriage.

12:00 AM, Jun 17, 2009 • By KEVIN VANCE
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Interestingly, the board of elections decided that it "must refuse to accept initiative and referendum measures that would thwart legislative efforts to eradicate unlawful discrimination." This felt responsibility to protect legislative efforts to eradicate unlawful discrimination from being "thwarted" is an apparently unwritten responsibility, as no citation is offered for it and such a responsibility cannot be found in the laws governing the referendum process. Rather than determine if the referendum violates the Human Rights Act as interpreted by the courts or as understood by the council that passed it, the board of elections decided that the mere intention of the city's legislature to eradicate a newly discovered form of unlawful discrimination is enough to change the meaning of the Human Rights Act. That is, since the city council passed a bill with anti-discrimination intentions, it is therefore shielded from a popular referendum because of the Human Rights Act. It should be said that the new same-sex marriage bill isn't even law--Congress has until July 6 to veto it--but even that didn't stop the elections board from attempting to base their interpretation of older D.C. laws, in part, on bills that haven't finished going through the process of congressional review.

Opponents of same-sex marriage in the District plan to appeal the decision of the board of elections. Tim Tracey of the Alliance Defense Fund, the organization representing the group of black ministers, told me last night that his group will file an appeal with the Superior Court of D.C. today or tomorrow. If that doesn't work out, and if Washingtonians are less than enthusiastic about gay marriage, voters may finally decide at the next election that their city councilmen haven't been representing them very well.

Kevin Vance is a Collegiate Network fellow and editorial assistant at National Affairs.