D.C. to Continue Marriage Recognition

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday June 16, 2009

The Board of Elections for Washington, D.C. has found that a proposed referendum to overturn a D.C. marriage recognition law fails to pass muster.

The legislation was passed with near-unanimity by the district's Council. It specifies that the District will recognize all marriages, including those of same-sex couples, granted in other jurisdictions.

However, reports Web resource HRC Backstory www.hrcbackstory.org/2009/06/dc-elections-board-blocks-marriage-referendum/ in a June 15 article, anti-gay Maryland cleric Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. of Beltsville, MD's Hope Christian Church sought a referendum to overturn the law by popular vote.

It is the right of any registered voter in the District to pursue such referenda, but Jackson's residency in Washington, D.C. was challenged in the gay press. Though Jackson claimed to reside at a one-bedroom condo in a Washington, D.C. building where an estimated one-third of the residents are reportedly gay, none of Jackson's D.C. neighbors knew that the unit was owned by him, nor had anyone seen him there.

A resident of the building was quoted in a June 8 article at the Washington Blade as saying, "I have never seen him and I have yet to find anyone who has."

Said another, " This is a shock to all of us.

"I'm outraged that someone would try use our building as a platform to push anti-gay policies in our city."

The unit is listed as belonging to a Joseph Honaker, who has reportedly claimed that Jackson is a roommate in the one-bedroom condo.

But some are skeptical about Jackon's primary residence being in Washington, D.C., when his wife and two daughters seem to be living at the family's large home in Maryland.

Activity and members of Jackson's family had been noticed by neighbors at his large and well appointed house in Silver Springs, MD, the article said.

Nor had neighbors noticed any sign of the family moving their belongings from the house in Silver Springs, the article noted.

In addition to his $1.1 million Silver Springs house, Bishop Jackson owns a second house in that city, worth about half a million dollars.

Although real estate information is a matter of public record, Jackson went on bill O'Reilly's Fox News program to claim that opponents had "hacked into my records" to uncover his holdings, reported Washington City Paper on June 12.

Jackson slammed those who questioned his legal right to propose the referendum by calling them "hypocrites" on the show, noted the article.

Jackson also claimed that emails had been sent that threatened his church.

"You know, Bill, people are looking for privacy, and they say their rights need to be protected," Jackson said to O'Reilly, the article reported.

"And on the other side, unlike the civil rights movement," continued Jackson, "this minority is going to rise up and impose their will on the majority.

"And they don't care that I've got young adult daughters and a wife. They don't care what happens to my family.

"They just want it their way, and they'll intimidate you or me into submission if they can."

The Bill O'Reilly appearance was not the first occasion on which Jackson had attempted to draw a distinction between the GLBT struggle for equality before the law and the civil rights movement of four decades ago.

In a April rally against the move to recognize marriages granted in other jurisdictions, Jackson decried gays having "hijacked" the civil rights movement.

Prior to his Fox News appearance, Jackson had claimed at a Board of Elections and Ethics hearing that newspaper accounts on the question of his residency had constituted a threat to himself and his family and a bid to strong-arm opponents of marriage equality, the Washington City News article reported.

The HRC Backstory article also noted that at a Board hearing a Jackson supporter had spoken against the argument that the referendum should be prevented from going before the voters because the referendum, in violation of referendum rules, would contradict the District's Human Right Act.

That speaker, the HRC Backstory article reported, based his argument on the assertion that gays are subhuman and therefore not protected by the Human Rights Act.

However, the referendum was found to be in violation of the rules, and was not allowed to go forward, the HRC Backstory article said.

The article hailed the finding as "an important victory for D.C. residents, for fairness, and for the rule of law here in the nation's capital."

Added the HRC Backstory article, "The Board's decision today serves as a reminder that even in a democracy, people's fundamental civil rights should not be put to a public vote-although perhaps it was lost on Bishop Jackson and his allies that the public has already spoken on this issue through our elected council members and mayor.

"The drafters of D.C.'s referendum law showed considerable foresight in protecting against insidious measures like this that would discriminate based on race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

"In reaching its decision the Board faithfully followed the law and, in doing so, took an important step towards ensuring that marriages performed in other jurisdictions will be treated equally under D.C. law," added the article,

The HRC Backstory item warned, "But we are not yet out of the clear. Opponents of marriage equality could still challenge the Board's decision in court, and the legislation does not take effect until the end of Congress' 30-day review period, in early July. "

The HRC Backstory article noted that a major backer of the referendum, the anti-gay National Organization of Marriage, "and others have vowed to continue their fight, which means supporters of equality must remain vigilant in continuing to work for marriage rights in D.C.

"We should also remember that full marriage equality will not be achieved until D.C. takes the next step and expressly permits same-sex marriages to be entered into in this jurisdiction," said the article.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.