D.C. appeals court upholds the freedom to marry

Posted by Keith L. Alexander on washingtonpost.com:

"The D.C. Court of Appeals narrowly sustained marriage equality in the District on Thursday in a 5 to 4 vote.

"The nine judges were asked to determine whether the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics acted lawfully when it rejected an initiative by opponents of the freedom to marry to have the matter voted upon by District residents in a referendum, rather than by the D.C. Council, which in December approved marriage equality.

"A D.C. Superior Court judge upheld the board's decision in January and the initiative became law in March.

"In May, attorneys for opponents of gay marriage, led by Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, argued before all nine appellate judges that the board's decision violated the District's Human Rights Act and that the council had overstepped its authority.

"In an 81-page decision released Thursday, the five affirming judges -- Phyllis D. Thompson, Vanessa Ruiz, Indez Smith Reid, Noël Anketell Kramer and Anna Blackburne-Rigsby -- disagreed, writing that the board was within D.C. law in making such a decision.

"The judges ruled that they think the council would not have authorized 'any initiative' that would have discriminated against residents and violated the Human Rights Act. The judges also wrote that the board 'correctly determined that the proposed initiative would have the effect of authorizing such discrimination.'

"The judges further ruled that the council 'was not obliged to allow initiatives that would have the effect of authorizing discrimination prohibited by the Human Rights Act to be put to voters, and then to repeal them, or to wait for them to be challenged as having been improper subjects of initiative, should they be approved by voters.'

"Based on that conclusion, the judges ruled that the board acted lawfully in refusing to accept Jackson's initiative.

... "Because all nine judges ruled, Jackson's attorneys have no further course of appeal, unless they choose to take their case to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court chooses to hear it. Jackson said Thursday that he and his attorneys are planning to take the case to the country's highest court.

... "Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) said he was 'very pleased' with the court's ruling, and noted that all nine of the judges, despite the split, ruled that -- despite what Jackson and his attorneys argued -- the referendum would have been discriminatory."

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