Editor's Note: Guest blogger Peter Montgomery is a D.C.-based writer, editor and communications consultant. He is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation and authored its recent report on Harry Jackson, Point Man for the Wedge Strategy.
The District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics met today to take public testimony on whether Bishop Harry Jackson will be permitted to push forward with an effort to repeal by referendum a new DC law recognizing marriages legally granted to same-sex couples in other jurisdictions. Jackson and his allies have been denouncing the Council for weeks, threatening "civil war" and "Armageddon," complaining that the public did not have enough input, and demanding that the question be put before voters.
The board of elections and ethics has to decide whether Jackson's proposal is the proper subject for a referendum. Thanks to the far-sightedness of local activists three decades ago, DC law explicitly prohibits referenda that would unlawfully discriminate under the District's Human Rights Act. It's a strong statutory provision that gives legal weight to the principle that the basic rights of the minority shouldn't be put up for majority vote.
So Jackson and his legal team, bolstered with help from the Alliance Defense Fund, a national Religious Right law firm, had to convince the board that treating same-sex couples married in Connecticut differently from opposite-sex couples married in Connecticut does not qualify as discrimination. The board seemed properly skeptical of those arguments. ADF attorney Brian Raum was no Kenneth Starr - he came across as nervous and awkward.
Much of the legal wrangling revolved around the applicability of a 1995 ruling by DC courts that the Human Rights Act did not require the District to grant marriage equality to same-sex couples. That early marriage case, however, did not address the issue of recognizing marriages conducted elsewhere, and DC's laws on marriage and domestic partnership have changed greatly since that ruling.
A group of local equality advocates made a strong case for keeping the referendum off the ballot - they included Mark Levine and Jeffrey Richardson for the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, Rick Rosendall of the Gay and Lesbian Activist Alliance, DC marriage activist Nicholas McCoy, and legendary activist Philip Pannell. Giving additional weight to our side was Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who sponsored the marriage recognition law, and Brian Flowers, the General Counsel to the DC Council.
Patrick Walker, the DC pastor who led the anti-marriage forces at a chaotic Ward 5 Democrats meeting a few weeks ago, was among those testifying for Jacksons' referendum. Others included Richard Urban, who runs an abstinence program called Ultra Teen Choice, Dale Wafer from the Harvest Church, and Leroy Swailes, who testified that gays were basically inhuman and anti-Christ (his shirt invited people to visit www.thirdgender666.com). The hearing ended after a woman not scheduled to speak rushed the microphone and passionately demanded that the board allow the referendum to take place; she claimed to speak on behalf of "the nations" in the District and said Latino and Korean Christians were "on fire" over the Council's actions.
The board gave people until the close of business on Thursday to submit additional comments and testimony. Given the tight deadlines that referendum-seekers would have to gather signatures, the board will be under pressure to act quickly. If the board rules against Jackson, he has the right to appeal to Superior Court, which he vowed to do.
A fascinating sideshow to the marriage campaign has been Jackson's claim (on referendum documents) to be a DC resident. Jackson's church is based in suburban Maryland and the Washington Blade has reported on the houses that he and his wife own in Maryland, as well as other legal records showing that he lived and voted there until recently. Blade reporter Lou Chibbaro has dug out information that the one-bedroom condo Jackson is claiming as his legal residence in DC is owned by someone else. Jackson is pissed off at the Blade and says it's threatening his safety by reporting his address. Jackson said today he was a legal resident of DC and is subleasing that apartment and would have nothing else to say about it.
Show of hands: who believes that Jackson and his wife have really moved from their million-dollar-plus suburban manse to a one-bedroom condo in downtown DC?