Today, in a 5-4 decision, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals – D.C.’s highest court – upheld marriage equality in the District by reaffirming earlier decisions of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics and the D.C. Superior Court. The appeals court held that the Board was correct to reject repeated petitions by anti-LGBT groups to put marriage equality to a citywide referendum.
In today’s ruling, the District Columbia Court of Appeals unanimously concluded that to put the matter of marriage equality to a vote would have the effect of authorizing discrimination under the Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the bases of gender and sexual orientation. The majority of the court also agreed with the Board that, under D.C.’s initiative law, such matters cannot be subject to a popular vote.
“We applaud today’s ruling of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals that marriage equality may not be put to a majority vote,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “The decision is important for many reasons, but most importantly, it protects families: those loving same-sex couples who wish to marry, and their children.”
NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter added, “The decision is correct as a matter of law, because a ballot measure enshrining discrimination against same-sex couples into law would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act. This decision also respects the structure of city government – the right of the people’s duly elected representatives to enact marriage laws that do not discriminate – and affirms that majorities cannot selectively take away rights from minorities.”
Washington D.C.’s marriage equality law took effect on March 9, 2010 after several attempts to stall its implementation failed in court. NCLR is a member of the Campaign for All D.C. families, a diverse coalition that has long advocated for marriage equality in the District of Columbia, and which filed a friend of the court brief supporting the city in this case. Covington & Burling LLP represented the Campaign throughout this case.