Suit Against Marriage Recognition in D.C. Thrown Out

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday July 1, 2009

A court in Washington, D.C. has set aside an attempt by anti-gay activists led by an evangelical preacher to delay a new District law that recognizes all marriages granted in other jurisdictions.

The law will go into effect July 6, barring Congressional action to stop it, reported a July 1 article in The Washington Times.

The effort to delay the law and to put the rights of gay and lesbian families up to a popular vote was led by anti-gay cleric Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. of Beltsville, MD's Hope Christian Church.

It is the right of any registered voter residing 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, $1.1 million house in Silver Springs, MD, the article said.

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 The 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.

The decision rejecting the suit and derailing the referendum was handed down by D.C. Superior Court Judge Judith E. Retchin, who found that the referendum promoted by Jackson would have violated the law--specifically, the District's Human Rights Act.

Before the court took up the case, some of Jackson's supporters reportedly dismissed the possibility that the referendum would run afoul of the Act, saying that the population at which the referendum was aimed--gays--were "sub-human," and therefore were not covered by the District's Human Rights law.

Wrote Retchin in her opinion, "At bottom, the harm about which petitioners complain is not based on a denial of the right to referendum," the article reported.

"Rather, they simply disagree with legislation enacted by our duly-elected council."

Added Retchin, "A citizens disagreement with constitutionally sound legislation, whether based on political, religious or moral views, does not rise to the level of an actionable harm."

Jackson's rhetoric remained white-hot as he responded to the finding.

The Washington Times quoted the anti-gay cleric as saying, "Essentially, today, the D.C. residents have been disenfranchised and unable to vote on an important public policy matter, because political elites would rather serve a radical agenda than the people they represent."

The article reported that Jackson and his group would likely pursue an initiative to define marriage in a way that would deny participation in the institution to gay and lesbian families.

Such an initiative would essentially be a citizen-led version of proposed legislation brought forward by anti-family equality US Representatives Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, and Dan Boren, an Oklahoma Democrat.

The anti-family bill proposed by the two congressmen reads, "In the District of Columbia, for all legal purposes, 'marriage' means the union of one man and one woman."

In order to become law, President Obama would need to sign the bill, or else Congress would have to muster enough support for the law to override a presidential veto.

The bill was supported by a total of 33 Congressmen, including Representatives Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Tom Price (R-Ga.), Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and John Fleming (R-La.)

Congressional support for anti-gay legislation notwithstanding, Jackson expressed determination to see marriage denied to gay and lesbian families in the District.

Vowed the anti-gay cleric, "We will exhaust all our legal options until the voice of the people is heard."

Advocates of same-sex family parity hailed the judge's finding, with the president of the Human Rights Campaign, Joe Solmonese, calling the ruling "an important victory for fairness, the rule of law and the protection of all D.C. residents against discrimination."

Added Solmonese, "As D.C. law justifiably recognizes, no referendum should be permitted to strip away any individual's civil rights.

"Today's decision is another positive step towards achieving equality in D.C. and across the country."

A referendum similar to the one pursued by Jackson resulted in the stripping of marriage rights from gay and lesbian families last year in California, when those rights were put to a popular vote and a state constitutional ban on marriage equality was narrowly approved at the ballot box.

Washington, D.C. does not currently extend marriage equality to its residents. The new law simply permits local government to recognize marriages granted to all families, including gay and lesbian families, granted in other jurisdictions.

Six states currently offer marriage equality. Around the world, seven nations offer marriage rights to all families, regardless of sexual orientation, including South Africa, Spain, and Canada.

No federal level recognition is permitted for same-sex couples in the United States. The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) denies federal acknowledgment of gay and lesbian families.

President Obama has said that he would like to see DOMA repealed, but a recent brief supplied by the Justice Department to a federal court hearing a challenge to DOMA on constitutional grounds affirmed the anti-family law, provoking outrage from GLBT rights groups.

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.

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