February 16, 2010 at 2:41 pm EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Church groups are biggest donors to D.C. marriage ban effort

Two religious groups linked to Bishop Harry Jackson’s church in Beltsville, Md., have provided more than $102,000 in contributions to his campaign to ban same-sex marriage in D.C.

Contributions from the High Impact Leadership Coalition and Christian Hope Ministries-High Impact comprise slightly more than half of the $199,530 raised as of Jan. 31 to fight the city’s same-sex marriage law, according to reports filed with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance.

Nearly all of the $97,338 that reports show were contributed by other donors came from national anti-gay groups, including Focus on the Family, Family Research Council Action, the group’s political arm and the National Organization for Marriage.

The reports show Jackson gave $100 of his own money to two of the three committees he formed to ban same-sex marriage in the District. FRC official Chuck Donavan of Manassas, Va., and NOM executive director Brian Brown of Great Falls, Va., each made individual contributions of $50 to one of the three committees.

“No donations are from D.C. residents, unless you believe Harry Jackson actually lives in D.C.,” said gay activist Bob Summersgill, one of the leaders of the city’s same-sex marriage effort.

Summersgill was referring to allegations that Jackson and his wife continue to live in their home in Silver Spring, Md., and use a rented apartment in Southeast D.C. near the Washington Nationals stadium as an address to maintain D.C. residency.

City records show that Jackson registered to vote in the District for the first time on April 22, shortly before he filed papers for the first of three ballot measures he has proposed to ban same-sex marriage in D.C.

In response to a complaint challenging his city residency, local officials ruled last year that Jackson’s D.C. apartment and his D.C. driver’s license, among other factors, were sufficient proof that he met the requirements for city residency.

Neither Jackson nor a spokesperson for his church returned calls this week seeking comment for this story.

The Office of Campaign Finance reports show that one of the committees established by Jackson, Stand for Marriage D.C. Initiative, sought to place a voter initiative on the ballot that would ban same-sex marriage. The second committee, Stand for Marriage D.C. Referendum, sought a voter referendum on the issue, and the third one, Stand4MarriageDC, sought to prevent the City Council from passing a same-sex marriage bill.

Finance reports show the three committees spent a total of $146,499 as of Jan. 31 in those efforts. According to the reports, the money was partly used to hire two prominent public relations firms to build support for a ballot measure and to retain a law firm to challenge rulings against a ballot measure.

One of the public relations firms, Schubert Flint Public Affairs, worked on the 2008 Proposition 8 campaign in California, which succeeded in banning gay marriage. It also assisted the successful ballot measure campaign in Maine in November, which resulted in overturning that state’s gay marriage law.

Summersgill and other local activists were quick to note that Jackson and his supporters have so far lost on all three fronts, with the D.C. Council passing the Religious Freedom & Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 in December and the D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics and two judges ruling against Jackson’s call for a ballot measure.

The same-sex marriage bill the City Council passed and Mayor Adrian Fenty signed is expected to clear its congressional review and become law the first week of March.

“What’s Harry Jackson getting for his money?” Summersgill asked on the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance blog, GLAA Forum. “All of his efforts have been for nothing.”

Jackson and his supporters have argued the campaigns opposing same-sex marriage have galvanized city residents who are said to be outraged that they’ve been unable to directly decide on the issue through a ballot measure.

A Washington Post poll released two weeks ago appears to partially support the claim. While the poll shows that 56 percent of city residents surveyed support legalizing same-sex marriage in the District, it also shows that 59 percent favor allowing voters to decide on the issue through a ballot measure.

Last year, Jackson and his local supporters disputed claims by marriage equality advocates that same-sex marriage opponents are dominated by non-D.C. residents. Jackson and his backers have said a large number of D.C. residents, including many of the city’s black clergy, have joined the campaign to allow the city’s voters to decide directly whether gay marriage should be legal.

LGBT activists have argued, however, that many of the clergy helping Jackson are from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. They note that more than 100 D.C. clergy members have joined forces to support the same-sex marriage bill.

The election board has ruled three times since last spring that a ballot measure seeking to ban same-sex marriage in the city cannot be held because it would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. Two D.C. Superior Court judges have upheld the board’s rulings.

The board considered Tuesday yet another proposed ballot measure — this time an initiative seeking to ban gay marriage proposed by Ward 8 civic activist Joyce Little. It was not immediately clear when the board would rule on the issue.

High Impact Leadership Coalition and Christian Hope Ministries-High Impact are components of the Beltsville-based Hope Christian Church, where Jackson serves as senior pastor. His wife, Vivian Michelle Jackson, is listed on the church web site as executive pastor.

The church’s web site describes the High Impact Leadership Coalition as a non-profit, tax-exempt group that “exists to protect the moral compass of America and to be an agent of healing to our nation by educating and empowering churches, community and political leaders.”

The web site does not disclose the tax status of Christian Hope Ministries-High Impact, but its listing as an arm of the church suggests that it also has a tax exemption under the Internal Revenue Service 501(c)(3) provision.

IRS rules prohibit tax-exempt religious organizations from engaging in partisan political campaigns on behalf of candidates running for public office. But the rules allow religious groups to become involved in some lobbying for or against proposed laws — including voter initiatives or referenda — as long as the lobbying is not a “substantial” part of their overall activity or expenditure of funds.

Neither Jackson nor a spokesperson for High Impact Leadership Coalition or Christian Hope Ministries group could be reached this week to determine the size of the two groups’ budgets or expenditure of funds. Neither group is listed by the non-profit watchdog organization Guidestar.org as having filed an IRS 990 public disclosure form that is required for most, but not all, tax-exempt organizations.

Without knowing the overall budget of the two groups, it could not be determined whether they are in compliance with or in violation of the IRS rules barring “substantial” lobbying activity by such groups. IRS rules stipulate that any “religious organization that engages in excessive lobbying activity over a four-year period” could lose its tax-exempt status.

Summersgill said he was considering filing a citizen request with the IRS calling for an investigation into the two groups.

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

  • It is unfortunate that your headline implies that all churches in the District are opposed to same-sex marriage. A very strong coalition of inter-faith leaders provided significant leadership to this effort and should be recognized for their efforts. The simple addition of the word “Conservative” to the headline would have made this clearer. So many people in the gay community broadly paint the faith community as being hostile to GLBT people, which just isn’t the case.

  • This Bishop Harry Jackson is really a horse’s A**. What kind of bigoted people attend his church anyway, raising more than $100,000 to persecute gay & lesbian people. This church pushes discrimination and hate speech. How would they feel if the Klan held a rally outside their church or tried to take their rights? I’m sorry if I sound angry, but bigotry hiding behind religion always grates on my nerves. Tell this clown and his hateful church to butt out of DC’s affairs and worry about Maryland where the church is located, (Not that I want to wish them on Maryland or anything).

  • There should still be a question of Jackson’s tax filings. It doesn’t matter that he’s being paid in Maryland, if he’s a “resident” of the District he has to pay DC taxes.

    That’s not even the worst. $200k to deny civil rights to people who do not harm you rather than provide services for people who have definite needs. People with no homes, people in need of clothing, food and medical attention. These people following Jackson and his ilk make a mockery of the claim that their religion is one of love.

  • Thanks, Lou, and DC Agenda for staying on top of this. We in Maryland are hoping for the best, first that the DC law will go through unscathed, second, that Maryland AG Gansler will rule that such marriages will be recognized here. You are our major source of ongoing information about the issue.

  • Terrific article! Keep up the good work!

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