Monday, January 18, 2010

D.C. judge: No referendum on same-sex marriage

From Human Rights Campaign:

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, applauded a D.C. Superior Court ruling that, 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.

[The Jan. 14] 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, Judge 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.

“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 Campaign for All D.C. Families – a coalition of D.C. residents and allied civil rights organizations – along with D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality and four same-sex couples who reside in the District were granted friend-of-the-court status and filed a brief in support of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics and the District.

Solmonese concluded, “HRC will continue its strong support of the Campaign for All D.C. Families and D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality until marriage equality is a reality for everyone in the District.”

Tom Williamson of Covington & Burling LLP, counsel for the Campaign for All D.C. Families, stated, “Judge Macaluso applied the law impartially in this case, recognizing the D.C. Council’s right to define the initiative process consistent with the D.C. Charter. The decision upholds the Council’s right to broadly protect human rights for all District residents.”

Rev. Dr. Dennis Wiley, Pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, said, “As a minister who’s been serving the Ward 8 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.”

At this time, five states recognize marriage for same-sex couples under state law: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire. The D.C. marriage law is likely to become effective on March 2, 2009. Five states—California, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada—provide same-sex couples with access to the state level benefits and responsibilities of marriage, through either civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Wisconsin provide same-sex couples with limited rights and benefits. New York and Washington, D.C. recognize marriages of same-sex couples validly entered into outside of the jurisdiction.

California recognized marriage by same-sex couples between June and November of 2008, before voters approved Proposition 8, which purports to amend the state constitution to prohibit marriage equality. Couples married during that window remain married under California law, but all other same-sex couples can only receive a domestic partnership within the state. The state will recognize out of state same-sex marriages that occurred before November 5, 2008 as marriages and those that occurred on or after November 5, 2008 as domestic partnerships. The Proposition 8 vote has been challenged in federal court; a trial is currently underway in San Francisco.

Same-sex couples do not receive federal rights and benefits in any state. For an electronic map showing where marriage equality stands in the states, please visit: www.HRC.org/State_Laws.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens.

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