High Court rejects pastor's ballot initiative to overturn same-sex marriage
January 18th, 2011
02:02 PM ET

High Court rejects pastor's ballot initiative to overturn same-sex marriage

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

The United States Supreme Court denied an appeal Tuesday from Bishop Harry Jackson to hold a ballot initiative in the District of Columbia that would, if approved, have overturned the District's same-sex marriage policy.

In May 2009, the city council approved a measure that amended the city's marriage act and said the city would recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.

Jackson and other religious leaders challenged the city on the measure saying the matter should be put to District voters in a ballot initiative. There initiative wanted to amend the law to say, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid in the District of Columbia." If that initiative had passed it would have effectively overturned the city's legal recognition of gay marriage.

The DC Board of Elections denied the request for a ballot initiative saying it would violate the city's 1973 Human Right Act, which prevents discriminatory ballot initiatives. They said the proposed ballot initiative would be discriminatory to gay and lesbian citizens.

Then in March 2010, the District passed the Marriage Equality Act which expanded the city's definition of marriage to say, "Any person may enter into marriage in the District of Columbia with another person, regardless of gender, unless the marriage is expressly prohibited by law."

Jackson and others challenged the Board of Elections in court over the denied ballot initiative.

Jackson is the pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland, but has residency in the District. He joined with a number of other DC residents on the case but was the lead plaintiff in Jackson v District of Columbia Board of Elections.

In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a 5-4 ruling saying the DC Board of Elections acted lawfully in denying the initiative and the Human Rights Acts was also legally valid.

It was that ruling Jackson and others had appealed to the Supreme Court. The court was silent in issuing it's ruling. It only listed Jackson's case among many others as "Certiorari Denied," meaning the justices would not hear arguments on the case and the ruling of the lower court would stand.

DC based Human Rights Campaign, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered civil rights group, lauded the court's decision. HRC President Joe Solmonese said in a statement, "The DC Council and Mayor courageously made marriage equality a reality last year, and the courts have since upheld the rights of DC residents to govern ourselves and take the necessary steps to eliminate discrimination in our community."

"We knew this direction was a long shot," Bishop Jackson told CNN of the legal route to the Supreme Court. "The answer now is for us, return to the political process. All is not lost at the Supreme Court level, in that there still will no doubt be a case from Massachusetts or California that will reach the Supreme Court and get some direction on the issue of marriage."

Jackson pointed out there are several cases moving through the legal system that deal with those states' definition of marriage as well.

Jackson said legally his supporters move into the position of wait and see. "I'm confident that Massachusetts or California will eventually wind up in the Supreme Court and there, this thing will have another kind of viewing. [The court] may have been saying we're not going to let your DC case be the defining issue on who can and can't be married," he said.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Courts • DC • Gay marriage • Pastors • United States

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.