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 thirdgender666.com 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.