A D.C. Superior Court judge Friday denied a Maryland minister’s request for a temporary injunction to prevent the city’s same-sex marriage law from taking effect March 3.
Following a hearing, Judge Brian Holeman issued a preliminary ruling from the bench saying he did not have authority to block a law approved by the city government and cleared by Congress through the normal congressional review process.
Holeman also said he didn’t believe a lawsuit filed by Bishop Harry Jackson seeking to force the city to hold a voter referendum to overturn the marriage law was likely to succeed on the merits. Holeman noted that a key requirement for a court injunction is that the people seeking it can demonstrate a likelihood of winning an underlying case.
“Everyone knows the chances of their winning on the merits are very slim,” said gay rights attorney Mark Levine, who attended the court hearing.
Jackson filed the lawsuit earlier this year after the city’s election board rejected his proposed referendum on grounds that it would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In Friday’s hearing, Holeman told attorneys for Jackson and for the city, who argued against the injunction, that he would issue a final, written decision on the injunction request Monday.
“I understood this to mean that his written opinion would be the same as his ruling today — to deny the injunction,” Levine said.
He said Jackson’s lawyers indicated they would quickly take their request for an injunction to the D.C. Court of Appeals, possibly as soon as Friday afternoon or Monday. He noted that most court observers believe the appeals court will uphold Holeman’s ruling against an injunction to block the marriage law.
Holeman denied yet another request by Austin Nimocks, one of Jackson’s attorneys, asking him to rule Friday on both the injunction request and on the merits of the case. Instead, Holeman scheduled a separate hearing on the merits of Jackson’s case seeking a voter referendum for Friday, Feb. 27.
“It’s a hearing I think is very likely to be cancelled,” said Levine.
He was referring to the rapidly approaching deadline that Jackson and his supporters face to pull together the numerous requirements of a voter referendum, including petition signatures from voters across the city.
Under the city’s election law, these requirements must be met between the time the D.C. government passes a law that opponents seek to kill through a referendum and the time Congress completes its 30 legislative day review of such a law. Congress is expected to complete its review on the same-sex marriage measure March 3.
Legal observers have said Jackson has a better — although unlikely — chance of killing the marriage law through a separate process he began earlier this year for a voter initiative. Unlike a referendum, the city’s election law gives up to six months for completing the necessary petition and administrative requirements of placing an initiative on the ballot. However, there is no time limit for Jackson to continue his court appeal seeking to overturn the city and the lower court rulings disqualifying the marriage initiative on grounds that it violates the city’s human rights law.
Similar to their decision on Jackson’s referendum proposal, the D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics and a Superior Court judge have ruled that an initiative seeking to ban same-sex marriage cannot be held because it would violate the city’s Human Rights Act.
Jackson has appealed the board and a Superior Court judge’s rulings disqualifying his initiative proposal to the D.C. Court of Appeals. That court is expected to issue a ruling on the case later this year — after the same-sex marriage law has gone into effect and after gay and lesbian couples beginning marrying.
Nimocks and other attorneys working on Jackson case could not immediately be reached.