D.C. Court of Appeals Bars City Referendum on Same-Sex Marriage; Appeal to Supreme Court Likely

By Pete Winn | July 15, 2010 | 3:31 PM EDT

Same-sex couples coming from D.C. Court of Appeals on July 15, 2010. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Opponents of the Washington, D.C., same-sex marriage law say they will now take their effort to challenge the law to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We look forward to bringing our fight for the right to vote on marriage to the nation’s highest court," said Brian Brown, president of National Organization for Marriage.
On Thursday, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals sided with the D.C. City Council and Mayor Adrian Fenty against Brown's group and other opponents who want to place a measure on the ballot to overturn the law. In a narrow 5-4 split, the city’s justices said city officials had the authority to keep the measure off the ballot.

The city law, which took effect in Washington in March, allows the nation's capital to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Brown’s group, in conjunction with Bishop Harry Jackson and other D.C. area ministers, went to court after city officials would not approve their efforts to put an initiative on the ballot asking city voters to define marriage in the city as between one man and one woman.

City officials said that a district human rights law barred initiatives that would authorize “discrimination.”

“The central issue in this case is whether the people of the District of Columbia will be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote on this important issue, just as voters in 31 states have been able to do,” Brown said. 

“The razor-thin majority on the DC Appeals court got it wrong when they said they owed substantial deference to the DC Council. In fact, it is the right of the people that is owed substantial deference by courts and the Council. We believe the U.S. Supreme Court will agree with us,” Brown added.

Joe Solomonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a major homosexual activist group, applauded the court ruling.

“The D.C. Council made a wise decision decades ago that no initiative should be permitted to strip away any individual’s civil rights,” Solomonese said in a statement. “The Court unanimously found that the proposed anti-marriage initiative would have the effect of causing discrimination, and in doing so, stood up for the entire D.C. community.”

Solomonese chided Brown's group.

“D.C.’s elected officials and courts have spoken, yet NOM may very well grasp at straws by appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court in a desperate attempt to further their misguided efforts,” he said.

The D.C. Court of Appeals is the top court in the D.C. court system – and should not be confused with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a federal court one step away from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Opponents of the law tried last March to get the Supreme Court to take sides. The court deferred the matter to the D.C. Court of Appeals, but Brown pointed out that, at that time, Chief Justice John Roberts said the opponents’ argument in the case “had some force” -- giving opponents hope the high court will take the case.

“The Court decided to give the D.C. Court of Appeal the opportunity to consider the case,” Brown said. “With today’s decision, we look forward to bringing our fight for the right to vote on marriage to the nation’s highest court.”