February 2, 2010 at 2:26 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Minister alleges conflict of interest at election board hearing

Rev. Anthony Evans (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

A local minister calling for a voter referendum to ban same-sex marriage in the nation’s capital startled a D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics hearing when he asked the board’s two members if they have “homosexual” family members or friends.

Rev. Anthony Evans, associate pastor of D.C.’s Mount Zion Baptist Church and a same-sex marriage opponent, questioned the board’s objectivity Jan. 27 in its role to decide whether a referendum seeking to ban gay marriage is an appropriate subject for the ballot.

“Deep down in your heart, are you for same-sex marriage?” Evans asked during his testimony. “Are any of your family members or friends homosexuals? Do you have any hatred in your heart towards the church … or towards clergy?”

Evans, who was applauded by some of the hearing’s spectators, called on the two board members to withdraw from the proceedings if they “answered yes to any of these questions.”

Board members Errol Arthur, who serves as chair, and Charles Lowery did not respond to Evans’ questions. The two thanked him for his testimony and called the next witness.

Evans was one of about 50 witnesses who urged the board to allow a marriage referendum to be placed on the ballot. Eighteen witnesses, including LGBT activists, testified against holding a referendum, saying such a ballot measure would violate the city’s human rights law.

The hearing was the third one held by the board during the past seven months to decide whether a ballot measure seeking to ban same-sex marriage could be held. The board ruled against two earlier requests — one for a referendum and the other for an initiative seeking to ban marriage.

D.C. Superior Court judges upheld both board rulings, saying members were correct in determining that a ballot measure seeking to ban same-sex marriage in the city would violate the city’s Human Rights Act. The act, among other things, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Rick Rosendall, vice president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance and one of the witnesses to testify against the proposed referendum, called Evans’ questions to the election board “outrageous” and said they represented an escalating anger and vehemence among same-sex marriage opponents.

“They already lost twice and they’re certainly going to lose again on this one,” Rosendall said. “They’re beginning to sound increasingly shrill and desperate.”

Several witnesses, including D.C. residents Odessia Tolliver and Corinthia Boone, cited biblical passages. They said the excerpts showed that same-sex marriage is immoral and would hurt society and “traditional” culture.

“I teach history,” Boone said. “Every great empire where they dared to redefine marriage as [something other than being exclusively] between a man and a woman declined and no longer exists.”

Among those testifying against the proposed referendum were D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who worked with Council member David Catania (I-At Large) to shepherd the Religious Freedom & Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 through the Council.

The bill is undergoing its required congressional review following its approval by the Council in December and Mayor Adrian Fenty’s decision to sign it. It’s expected to become law in early March, with nearly all political observers predicting Congress won’t overturn it.

U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has introduced a motion to overturn the same-sex marriage bill, but the Democratic-controlled Congress is expected to block his resolution.

Two attorneys opposed to the referendum joined same-sex marriage advocate Bob Summersgill in raising last week what some called a new and novel argument against ballot measures seeking to ban gay marriage in the city.

The three said the proposed referendum, if approved, would violate the D.C. City Charter by preventing the city from obtaining projected tax revenue generated from same-sex weddings. The revenue could total more than $1 million annually.

Brian Flowers, general counsel for the City Council, and Mark Levine, an attorney representing the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, noted that a provision in the City Charter strictly prohibits initiatives and referenda that would appropriate funds, cut taxes or negatively impact the city’s budget.

To invoke the provision, they cited a report issued in December by the city’s chief financial officer projecting that same-sex weddings would generate millions of dollars a year in revenue for D.C. businesses that specialize in services related to weddings. That revenue, in turn, would result in additional tax revenue for the city, according to the report.

“Another study predicts that more than $50 million over three years would be generated in local tax and fee revenues, potentially creating approximately 700 new jobs,” Flowers said in his testimony before the election board.

Flowers and Levine pointed to a 2004 decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals barring an initiative seeking to ban smoking in restaurants and bars and an appeals court ruling in 1994 rejecting an initiative to prevent the city from booting cars that are illegally parked. In those cases, the court ruled that advocates for a smoking ban and an anti-booting policy could not seek to enact those polices through a ballot measure because the policies would reduce city revenue by curtailing taxes generated by restaurants and bars or fines generated by booting cars.

Some legal observers believe the “revenue” argument may be stronger than the human rights act argument because the revenue-related restriction against ballot measures is written in the City Charter. The human rights law restriction is part of a regular city law passed in 1978 to implement the City Charter’s creation of the initiative and referendum process.

Cleta Mitchell, an attorney representing supporters of the ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage, testified at the election board hearing that the human rights law argument used by marriage equality advocates is flawed. Mitchell and others calling on the board to allow a marriage referendum have argued that the human rights law restriction could only be used if they were embedded in the City Charter.

Two Superior Court judges have rejected that argument, however, and marriage equality activists said they were hopeful that the election board and yet another court ruling would support their view that the ballot measures must be rejected if they would result in discrimination against minorities protected by the Human Rights Act.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Oh here they go again, these religious right preachers are still trying to preach hate and hide behind the bible. When do we get to vote on their marriages? I think I should be able to put that on the ballot anytime I see fit and make them argue why their right to marry should be respected when mine isn’t. Thank God this board has blown them off again, and correctly cited their effort as illegal. Why they didn’t figure this out in California before Prop 8 was allowed to go forward I will never know. We shouldn’t allow these clowns to take away our rights any more than they would allow us to put their rights up for a vote.

  • I am glad that I was never in Corinthia Boone’s history class. Civilizations of antiquity have a funny habit of no longer existing. A glaring exception is China, land of the “passion of the cut sleeve” between an emperor and his male concubine.

  • These black ministers and “leaders” have a very short memory. Black civil rights were ultimately achieved through the courts and the legal process — so will ours.

  • If it is a conflict of interest for a board member to have homosexual family or friends, it is just as much a conflict for those who have straight family or friends.

  • why doesn’t the government start taxing the church? if the church wants to stick their nose in political issues and law issues then they need to pay taxes. Whatever happened to seperation of church & state?

  • LOL! How many “great empires” that DIDN’T “redefine marriage” still exist? Isn’t the answer “none”? Or is it true that, say, the Assyrian and Mongol Empires collapsed because they allowed gay marriage? Is that what brought down the Aztec and Inca Empires too?

    This is too funny. The talking point from the ’70s was that tolerating gay SEX supposedly brought down Rome and Greece. But neither ever allowed gay MARRIAGE. She can’t even get the talking point from the 1970s right!

  • Would someone please tell the nosey minister that we all know someone who is gay… So does that mean no one can make decisions regarding this except you?

    I would ask the same of the “preacher-man,” are you gay or someone in your past?

    Go away strange un-important man.

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