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DC's gay marriage law survives court challenge

The DC Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Washington was within its rights to block a popular vote on same-sex marriage because the results could violate its human rights law. The city legalized gay marriage in March.

A couple holds roses after they obtained their marriage license March 3, the first day possible for gay couples since the District of Columbia legalized gay marriage in Washington. The DC Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that Washington effectively upheld gay marriage in the nation's capital by legitimizing the city's decision to block a popular vote on same-sex marriage.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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The District of Columbia Court of Appeals effectively upheld gay marriage in the nation's capital by legitimizing the city's decision to block a popular vote on the issue.

In a 5-4 decision published Thursday, the court agreed that Washington's Board of Elections and Ethics had the right to deny an initiative measure on the city's recently passed law legalizing same-sex marriage.

Opponents of the law, led by area pastors, were confident that the majority of Washingtonians would have voted against gay marriage if given the chance.

They argued that residents of the District “are … entitled to voice their views through their votes on this important issue” – just like the voters in 31 states where gay marriage has been on the ballot. Every time the question of same-sex marriage has been put to voters, they have voted against it.

But that could have conflicted with the District’s 1973 “Human Rights Law,” which declares that “[e]very individual shall have an equal opportunity to participate … in all aspects of life.”

The question, according the court, was whether such an initiative measure “would authorize or have the effect of authorizing discrimination on a basis prohibited by the Human Rights Act.”

“We have no difficulty concluding that the proposed initiative would do so,” the court majority wrote.

While the decision was close, even the four-judge minority (which questioned the basis on which the DC Board of Elections rejected the initiative) agreed that the referendum could have been discriminatory.

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