D.C. 'gay marriage' foes hopeful

WASHINGTON (BP)--Supporters of an effort to give citizens of the District of Columbia the right to vote on the definition of marriage expressed hope after the D.C. Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the controversial case May 4.

Legalized "same-sex marriage" went into effect in March in D.C., and the arguments before the full appeals court gave opponents another opportunity to plead their case for a voter initiative after being rejected by the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, as well as the D.C. Superior Court.

"I think the thing that was the most encouraging was that the court of appeals was clearly focusing on the fundamental question here, and that's the right to vote," lawyer Austin Nimocks told Baptist Press after arguing before the court on behalf of supporters of the initiative. "And that's what this case has been about from the very beginning."

The D.C. Charter gives citizens the "clear right to vote on anything except budget matters," said Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). "And if people want the right to vote on marriage, they have the unquestionable right to do so."

In December, D.C. became the sixth jurisdiction in the country to legalize "gay marriage" when the D.C. Council approved a bill and Mayor Adrian Fenty signed it into law.

D.C.-area pastor Harry Jackson, former D.C. delegate Walter Fauntroy and others had attempted to place an initiative on the ballot to define marriage as only "between a man and a woman," but the D.C. election board rejected the bid in November. The board said the initiative would "authorize discrimination" against homosexuals that is barred under the district's Human Rights Act, and Superior Court Judge Judith Macaluso agreed with the action. ADF appealed Macaluso's decision.

"The lengths to which the government has gone in this case to suppress the people's right to vote is unprecedented," Nimocks said at a news conference after the May 4 arguments.

"This case is about the right to vote and not just our right to vote, but the right of every single person in the District of Columbia. Whether you want marriage or you want to redefine it, your right is at issue today, because in America -- above all else, above any body's political agenda, above anybody on the council, above anybody on the court -- we respect the right to vote."

At the news conference, Southern Baptist public policy specialist Barrett Duke said the appeals court was weighing a "grave matter."

"It is not just some question of the budget or some mundane district business," said Duke, vice president for public policy of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "The issue of same-sex marriage has profound, life-altering effects on every aspect of life for every person living in the District of Columbia and beyond. This is a national issue.

"Marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Nothing else is marriage.

"The right of the governed to determine the laws that will govern them is a bedrock principle that drove our founding fathers to pledge to each other their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to achieve," Duke said. "Anytime this right is denied by the people's own appointed representatives, that threatens this great bedrock principle of self-government that has preserved us for 234 years from the tyranny of entrenched power. We are living in an age of judicial and bureaucratic tyranny in which the people are told when they can decide the laws that govern them and when they cannot."

Nimocks said he expects the appeals court to issue a decision before the end of the year.

In legalizing "same-sex marriage," D.C. joined five states -- Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont -- that already had done so. In none of those states, however, have voters approved the unions in a ballot initiative. All 31 states that have held ballot initiatives on the question of "same-sex marriage" have affirmed the traditional view of the institution.

The law's opponents say it will harm the institution of marriage as well as families and society. They also are concerned it will not provide enough protection for the expression of religious belief by those who oppose "gay marriage."

Defenders of the measure, however, say it protects the rights of clergy and religious bodies.

Catholic Charities in the district expressed its concerns by choosing not to extend health insurance benefits to new employees or new enrollees -- out of fear it could be forced by the city to cover a homosexual spouse. It also decided to end its foster care program rather than place children with same-sex couples.

Foes of "gay marriage" received some encouragement in early March when Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts -- while turning back their long-shot emergency appeal to prevent the law from taking effect -- said in a three-page opinion that their "argument has some force." Opponents of the law, he said, could appeal again to the Supreme Court once the D.C. Court of Appeals hands down a final decision on the "relevant legal questions."


Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. With reporting by Michael Foust, assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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