January 18, 2011 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Supreme Court rejects D.C. marriage challenge

(Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court issued an order today denying a request by a local minister to consider a case seeking to force the District of Columbia to allow voters to decide whether to repeal the city’s same-sex marriage law.

The order, which did not include any statement or opinion, ends the effort by Bishop Harry Jackson and other local opponents of same-sex marriage to go through the courts to impose a ballot measure calling for overturning the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009, which legalized same-sex marriage in the District.

None of the Supreme Court’s nine justices issued a dissent in their unanimous determination not to take the case.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court turned down Bishop Jackson’s request for review of the Court of Appeals decision on marriage equality,” said Peter Rosenstein, president of the Campaign for All D.C. Families, the local group that campaigned for passage of the marriage equality law.

“This confirms our belief that what the D.C. Council did is both legal and just,” he said. “Equality will not be denied.”

Rosenstein was referring to a decision last October by the D.C. Court of Appeals that upheld an earlier ruling by the city’s Board of Elections and Ethics to reject a voter initiative proposed by Jackson and other same-sex marriage opponents calling for repealing the marriage equality law.

In the case known as Jackson v. the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, Jackson sought to force the city to hold a voter initiative that, if approved, would repeal the same-sex marriage law and replace it with a new law defining marriage in the District as a union only between a man and a woman.

The Court of Appeals decision stated that D.C. City Council acted within its authority under the city’s congressionally mandated Home Rule Charter when it imposed certain restrictions more than 30 years ago on the types of initiatives and referenda that could be placed on the ballot.

Among the restrictions adopted then was a ban on ballot measures that, if approved by voters, violate the non-discrimination provisions of the D.C. Human Rights Act. The act, among other things, bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Jackson and a team of lawyers representing him argued that Council violated the Home Rule Charter by adopting the ballot measure restrictions.

The Supreme Court today rejected Jackson’s request for a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari, which asked the court to hear the case to enable Jackson to appeal the ruling of the D.C. Court of Appeals. By denying that request, the Supreme Court allowed the Court of Appeals decision to permanently remain in effect.

“Today’s action by the Supreme Court makes abundantly clear that D.C.’s human rights protections are strong enough to withstand the hateful efforts by outside anti-LGBT groups to put people’s basic civil rights on the ballot,” said Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign.

“For almost two years, the National Organization for Marriage and the Alliance Defense Fund, along with Bishop Harry Jackson, have fought a losing battle to shamelessly harm gay and lesbian couples in D.C. who seek nothing more than to share in the rights and responsibilities of marriage,” Solmonese said.

According to the Supreme Court’s public docket, the nine justices deliberated over whether to hear the Jackson case in a private conference held last Friday. Under longstanding court rules, the justices usually announce a decision on whether to accept or reject a case on the next business day following such a conference.

With the Supreme Court denying Jackson’s court challenge to the same-sex marriage law, marriage equality opponents are expected to take their fight back to Congress by resuming earlier requests for Congress to either overturn the D.C. marriage law or to impose a new law forcing the city hold a ballot measure to allow voters to decide the issue.

D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large), who chairs the committee that shepherded the same-sex marriage law through the Council in 2009, said city voters have demonstrated through the city’s 2010 primary and general election that the marriage law was not a pressing issue for them.

He noted that despite promises by same-sex marriage opponents to work for the defeat of all Council members who voted for the marriage law, just a few candidates opposing the law surfaced in the elections and all of them lost by lopsided margins.

“They’ve lost in the courts, they lost overwhelmingly in the Council 12 to 1 [when the marriage bill came up for a vote in December 2009], and they lost at the ballot box,” he said. “Now they’ve lost their last chance, their last gasp in the judicial system.”

Jackson couldn’t be immediately reach for comment.

Rev. Anthony Evans, a D.C. minister who is working with Jackson to overturn the D.C. same-sex marriage law, called the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the Jackson case “a travesty of justice.”

“This law was forced down the church’s throat and what the Supreme Court has set up is the greatest civil war between the church and the gay community,” Evans said. “And let me just state for the record, we don’t want that fight. We love our gay brothers and sisters. But if the Supreme Court is not going to acknowledge the fact that we have a right as religious people to have a say-so in the framework of religious ethics for our culture and society, then we reject the Supreme Court on this issue.”

Supporters of the same-sex marriage law have noted that large numbers of local religious leaders from all denominations, including black churches, came out in support of the law. Many have begun peforming same-sex marriages.

Evans, an official with the D.C.-based National Black Church Initiative, said local same-sex marriage opponents have began discussions with “our Republican friends” in Congress to take steps to challenge the D.C. marriage law. He declined to disclose further details but said he and others opposed to the marriage law lobbied GOP leaders on the Hill to strip congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) of her voting privileges on the House floor.

Since Republicans took control of the House earlier this month, GOP leaders revoked Norton’s limited floor voting privileges that Democrats gave her when they took control of the House in 2007. House GOP leaders also revoked the limited voting privileges for delegates representing U.S. territories and Puerto Rico.

“[O]ur first action was to make sure that Eleanor didn’t get a vote as punishment for her wholehearted support for same-sex marriage in this city and also for her to ignore the black religious community,” Evans said. “There is a consequence to her actions. That was one of them.”

Norton, reached at her office late Wednesday, disputed Evans’ claim that same-sex marriage opponents played any role in her loss of House voting privileges.

“He can’t take credit for that. He had nothing to do with it,” she said. “I can tell you without fear of contradiction that our vote was taken this time in the same way it was taken last time — because the Republicans oppose voting rights for the District of Columbia, not because anybody in the District had any power to persuade them to do anything except what they want to do.”

Norton was referring to House Republican leaders’ decision to strip her of voting privileges when they gained control of the House in 1995. Democrats restored her voting privileges when they regained control of the House in 2007.

“But in any case, shame on any resident who wants the District of Columbia not to have a vote,” she said.

Norton said she expected some members of Congress to attempt to overturn the city’s same-sex marriage law through legislation, although she was hopeful that Democrats and moderate Republicans would join forces to defeat such legislation.

“I can tell you that I’ve had a good conversation with an important Republican who’s not interested,” she said, referring to efforts to overturn the D.C. marriage law. “That doesn’t mean that won’t happen. But there are Republicans here who would not like to get all mixed up with social issues.”

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

21 Comments
  • Rev. Anthony Evans, a D.C. minister who is working with Bishop Harry Jackson to overturn the D.C. same-sex marriage law, called the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the Jackson case “a travesty of justice.”

    “This law was forced down the church’s throat and what the Supreme Court has set up is the greatest civil war between the church and the gay community,” Evans said. “And let me just state for the record, we don’t want that fight. We love our gay brothers and sisters. But if the Supreme Court is not going to acknowledge the fact that we have a right as religious people to have a say-so in the framework of religious ethics for our culture and society, then we reject the Supreme Court on this issue.”

    Excuse me, Rev. Evans, but it’s called SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. The fact is, Bishop Jackson and other religious leaders who sought to force the District of Columbia to put the marriage law up for a vote did not have legal standing to do so, as they were members of the clergy who unconstitutionally sought to impose a religious test on who can marry and who cannot.

    Article VI, section 2 of the U. S, Constitution is quite clear: “No religious test shall ever be used as a qualification for any office or public trust in the United States.” Civil marriage is a public trust.

    It’s time to give it up, Bishop Jackson. It’s over, and your side lost. Deal with it.

  • Oh Good Lord, when will Hairy Jackson ever give up? He must be half cracked or either he’s a closet case himself and trying to cover it up by being against us so much.

  • Another attack by the Black conservative church against our community. All while their pews and choir stalls are filled with gays and lesbians. It is scurrilous to state that gay marriage will force “the church” to marry gays, and they know it.

  • I hope he can get out of his lease in SW.

  • The Bible repeatedly commands Christians to submit to secular law. If those “reverends” ever preached any part of the Bible except the parts on homosexuality, they’d know that.

  • This law was forced down the church’s throat – and what is he trying to do to the citizens of DC. Jam something of his down our throats.

    Sad and a little disgusting. Most likely in the closet.

  • i DONT UNDERSTAND THE GAY COMMUNITY MOST OF YOU SIMPLY HATE ANYBODY THAT DOES NOT BELIEVE IN THIS PEVERTED SATANIC LIFESTYLE.FIRST YOU SAY SEPERATE RELIGION AND A STATE BUT YET YOU WANT WHAT STRAIGHT PEOPLE HAVE MARRIAGE CREATED BY GOD BETWEEN A MAN AND A WOMAN IF THAT WERE NOT THE CASE THEN HOW COME WE HAVE BEEN BLESSED TO PRODUCE AND THE EARTH IS INHABITAT WITH PEOPLE ? PLUS MOST OF YOU HATE THE BIBLE AND GOD BUT YET YOU WANT WHAT THE LORD CREATED. I DONT CARE WHAT YOU SAY THAT LIFESTYLE IS SICK. EVERYBODY SINS BUT NO GREATER SIN AND ABOMINATION TO GOD THAN A MAN LAYING WITH A MAN AND A WOMAN LAYING WITH A WOMAN.THE CHURCHES THAT GO ALONG WITH THIS AND THEY KNOW GOD’S LAW EVEN IN THE NEW TESTAMENT AND ALL OTHER RELIGIOOUS BIBLE STATES THIS IS GOD’S WORD MOST OF YOU MOCK AN LAUGH AT THE BIBLE BUT YOU WILL FIND OUT THAT IT’S NOT MAN WHO HOLDS THE KEYS TO YOUR LIFE .THE REAL POWER IS OUR LORD HE WILL SHOW YOU BETTER THAN HE CAN EXPLAIN IT SINCE YOU THINK THIER IS NO GOD. [SATAN IS SO HAPPY THAT HE IS GETTING WHAT HE WANTS ,FULL REIGN OF THE EARTH BUT THE LORD WILL PUT AN END TO THAT SOON.

    • You needn’t bother telling me what the Bible says. I already know the Bible better than you evidently know it, since I managed to spot some glaring Biblical errors in your post.

    • God’s Rites or Civil Right

      SACRAMENTS :Baptism, Confirmation, Initiation, the Holy Meal, the Eucharist, Matrimony, Holy Orders, Clergy Investiture, Penance, Extreme Unction, and Funeral Rites.(http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Sacraments)

      The churches are demanding that government not legislate the definition of sacraments.
      These are the provenance of GOD.

      Religion has good reason to be selfish of it’s perrogatives. It has only the Grace of God and the Will of the Law to protect it.

      The nature of our law demands seperation of Sacred & Mammon. The Law has no power to decide a question of morals. The churches have no power to legislate for all people. When religions dictate morals they are binding only on affiliates of that tradition. We cannot invest in a religious institution the power of legislation, nor remove from it the power of consecration.

      We have no public argument about whom a church may accept into their membership. We have no legal restriction on who can be Priest or Priestess. There is no Civil Right to the partaking of the Lords Supper. There is no disagreement that we can dispose of our dead in a manner pleasing to our own spiritual dictates, as long as certain health issues are dealt with. Of all the sacrements of varrious religions, Mattrimony is the only one tied to law so tightly that people see it as inextricable.

      Deciding how domestic resources are allocated. Delimiting the number of offspring. Defining what the children are inculcated with. Divorce and Remarriage. Decreeing what health choices to make. Dictating what sexual practices are followed. The gender of participants. The number of partners in a union. Are any of these things that you want someone else’s religion controlling?

      The only reason Marriage is any different is because of a legal entanglement that is, in itself, unconstitutional. If marriage had no legal standing, churches would be free to refuse or endow marriage consecration as Doctrine and Conscience dictate. When governments license and regulate a Sacrament such as Matrimony, that infringes on a religions right to regulate its Rites & Doctrine, even its very Lexicon. Even if government can agree as to what a sacrament means, it has no power to grant said sacrament any legal definition, regulation, or recognition. Neither should any sacrament confer any legal rights or privileges, however traditional those rights may be.

      What religion fears is that, in Legalizing Gay Marriage the Church looses it’s control.
      This is in fact true. It looses control of defining a word by insisting that a word is proprerty. It looses control of defining its own sacrements because it refuses to allow a word be applied to the loving unions of all people. It looses its controll because of insisting that morals be made into law. It looses it controll of reason.

      Legal contracts for Property, Finances, Habitation, Conjugal Action, or Progeny must not be subject to the moral positions of any segment of a population. Name them something else. Cohabitation Contract for the Purpose of Progeny. Civil Union. Whatever. The Rite of Marriage can never confer nor share in those rights, responsibilities, or privelages. We can not condone the Rites of any religious tradition being legally binding. Marriage will stay sacrosanct only when it has been severed from any legal standing.

      Having pitted God against the Law, God has remained inflexable.

      In refuseing to recognize the right of all people to chose their own domestic sittuation, and call that union marriage, the Church must forfit the inclusion of marriage in the realm of the Law. It must give up these rights that belong to unions, these responsibilities of being bonded, the privelages of having loved. The contract of Marriage can no longer be authorized by law.

      It appears the controll that was truly lost was that of being inclusive of Gods providence.

      Sanctity means sacred, blessed, hallowed.
      We must protect the sanctity of marriage.
      I revere and bless your choice and act of living sacramentally married.
      I support the right to legally contract in any way you will.
      I long for the day when Civil Rights are equal.
      This is what is desired.
      It can be achieved.

      NO Legal Right to Marriage = NO Rite of Legal Marriage

    • Excuse me, but you obviously are a THEOCRAT who has no respect for our Constitution. Article VI, Section 2 clearly PROHIBITS the imposition of a religious test to determine the validity of any person’s qualifications for public office, or that of any public trust. Since civil marriage is a public trust under the Constitution, your comment is legally worthless.

      You can rant all you want about what the Bible says, but the Bible is NOT the supreme law of the united States. The Constitution is — and the Constitution explicitly BARS the use of religion to justify discrimination, whether based on race, nationality, religion or gender,

      And contrary to popular belief, barring gay and lesbian couples from marrying is GENDER-based discrimination, NOT sexual orientation-based discrimination.

    • Your ignorance of our Constitution is astounding. You’ve confused civil marriage with the religious sacrament of matrimony. The two are NOT the same. Matrimony was created by God, but civil marriage is a creature of the GOVERNMENT.

      And under our Constitution, “no religious test shall ever be used” as a qualification for any PUBLIC office or PUBLIC trust in this country (Article VI, Section 2). You cannot impose a religious law as the law of the state — PERIOD.

      Civil marriage is none of religion’s business. Matrimony is likewise none of the government’s business. Jesus Christ himself laid the foundation for the separation of church and state when he said, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s [Matthew 22:21].”

  • I’d love to know when a Bishop from Maryland was suddenly allowed to call the shots in D.C. Maybe that’s why the Reverend jumped on board (for it to be officially a D.C. religious figure against D.C.’s people?). In all honesty, if you don’t live in the district, you have no real right to change laws there. That’s similar to Virginia suddenly saying “Hey Maryland, we’re coming in to change your laws.” Atrocious at worst; ridiculous at best.

  • So as a DC resident, he campaigned to take away what little voice we had in the House? There’s only one word for that:

    TRAITOR

  • So apparently there are no real problems in DC’s black community… poverty, homelessness, drug addiction? It’s nice the clergy has taken care of all those so now they can focus on the REAL crisis: a few gay couples they will never meet are getting married somewhere.

  • Well that’s it for the rotten homophobic bishop and his congregation of anti-gay bigots, because there are no more appeals now that the Supreme Court turned him down. I can’t wait for his next queeny fit when same-sex marriage comes up in Maryland this year.

  • “Rev.” Anthony Evans wants to punish Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton by taking right of the citizens of DC to have equal repersentation in the House of Representatives, huh?

  • Rev. Anthony Evans and Harry Jackson do not speak for all clergy. If a preacher does not want to perform a wedding –whether it is a man and a woman or two women –they can say “no.” There is no law that requires any minister to perform a wedding if they do not believe the couple should be married.

  • As a devout Christian, I personally believe that the Bible says *nothing* about homosexuality (as I understand the term), and therefore there are no Biblical grounds to attack our community. I wish Bishop Jackson and his followers would stop using the Bible as a fig leaf for their bigotry.

  • You do realize that anti-gay christian conservative groups are already working to get Congress to force a referendum on marriage equality in the district don’t you? They are turning to the new House Majority to impose their agenda on the district. See what the Family Research Council had made that clear on their website!

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