The Washington D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics is expected to rule this week on whether to allow a gay marriage question to go before voters.

At a packed meeting last week, the board heard testimony on whether a referendum aimed at repealing a bill that recognizes gay marriages performed in other states and countries can move forward.

City Council members approved the law in a 12 to 1 vote last month, with former Mayor Marion Barry the lone dissenter, and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, signed the bill. But because laws passed by the District are subject to a 30-day review period by the U.S. Congress, the bill won't become law until after the review period expires or Congress acts. Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican, has introduced a bill that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in the District of Columbia.

Opponents, lead by Bishop Harry Jackson of the Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, are not waiting on Congress to act and are pushing for a referendum to decide the issue. Before gay marriage opponents can begin collecting the 21,000 signatures required, the two member and one vacancy board must approve their referendum application.

At issue is whether such a referendum would violate the District's Human Rights Act of 1977 that prohibits discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation.

In four hours of testimony last Wednesday, the board heard from gay marriage backers and foes. Opponents, a coalition of largely African-American ministers, argued they were only asking for a public debate.

“All we are asking for is a public debate,” said the Rev. Dale Wafer, a minister with the Harvest, a religious community in Northeast Washington.

Additional testimony, however, suggested that that debate might not be too civil.

Wearing a t-shirt for the anti-gay website that read “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Morals are Worse than Animals,” Minister Leroy Swailes, who most likely owns the anonymously registered website, railed against being gay.

Swailes testified that discrimination against gay men and lesbians is “positive discrimination.”

“Me as a black man, when they discriminated against me, I came out of my mother's womb, like I didn't have a choice, that was a negative discrimination. If you discriminate against a homosexual, that's a positive,” Swailes, who went on to call children's books like King and King that explain gay and lesbian relationships pedophile books, said.

He also argued that gay men and lesbians are inhuman and therefore not eligible for human rights: “Everybody should have human rights, but you have to be human. Human means you deal with the opposite sex.”

Gay rights activists Philip E. Pannell accused opponents of “advocating for a popular vote that will give vent to public homophobia.”

“Unfortunately, in our society, it is still acceptable in many polite circles to vilify and victimize gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people,” he testified. “Hopefully, we in the District of Columbia will not have to be subjected to a campaign of misunderstanding, intolerance, fear, bigotry and hatred towards a minority group.”

Referendum supporters say recognition of out-of-state legal gay marriages is just the first step towards legalizing gay marriage in the District, an accusation council leaders do not deny.

If the board approves the application, opponents face the daunting task of collecting valid signatures from at least 5 percent of the registered voters in at least five of the city's eight wards.