The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request late Tuesday that D.C.’s same-sex marriage law be prevented from taking effect, a move that would have given opponents more time to organize a voter referendum to overturn the law.
Chief Justice John Roberts, who ruled on the matter on behalf of the court, issued a three-page decision saying Bishop Harry Jackson and others opposed to the marraige law could not show that they could win the case on its merits, or that allowing the law to take effect would cause them irreparable harm.
Roberts said the opponents’ argument that the D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics acted improperly by denying the referendum request on grounds that it would violate the city’s Human Rights Act “has some force.”
“Without addressing the merits of the petitioners’ underlying claim, however, I conclude that a stay is not warranted,” he wrote. Roberts cited past rulings of the Supreme Court that have said it’s the court’s practice to “defer to the decisions of the courts of the District of Columbia on matters of exclusively local concern.”
The D.C. Superior Court and Court of Appeals previously ruled against Jackson’s request for a stay in the gay marriage law.
Roberts also disputed one of Jackson’s claims that D.C. violated its own Home Rule Charter approved by Congress when it restricted the use of referenda and initiatives that take away rights protected by the city’s Human Rights Act. Jackson and his backers have said that policy is invalid because the City Council enacted it as a regular law rather than as an amendment to the City Charter.
“A joint resolution of disapproval by Congress would prevent the act from going into effect, but Congress has chosen not to act,” Roberts wrote. “The challenged provision purporting to exempt certain D.C. Council actions from the referendum process … was itself subject to review by Congress before it went into effect.”
The appeal to the Supreme Court came after the D.C. Superior Court and the D.C. Court of Appeals rejected earlier requests for a court injunction to block the law. Those requests were filed by Jackson, the pastor of a Beltsville, Md., church and other local opponents of same-sex marriage.
Rev. Walter Fauntroy, D.C.’s former delegate to Congress, was among the same-sex marriage opponents that filed the stay request Monday before the Supreme Court.
Gay rights attorney Mark Levine said earlier that an appeal to the Supreme Court to intervene in the matter would have to be based on a claim that allowing same-sex marriages to be performed in the District would violate the opponents’ constitutional rights.
“I don’t believe there’s any constitutional issues involved in this,” he said last week. “But I’m sure Rev. Jackson’s attorneys could come up with something.”
Levine had said the chance that the court would agree with a constitutional claim was highly unlikely.