As gay marriage begins in Washington, opponents vow to fight

Gay marriage officially became legal in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Many same-sex couples embraced the opportunity to get married, but some opponents want to put gay marriage on the ballot through the District’s initiative process.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Sinjoyla Townsend (l.) and Angelisa Young react after being pronounced married, on Tuesday, the first day that gay marriage was legal in Washington, DC.

Gay rights groups celebrated the start of same-sex weddings Tuesday in Washington, D.C., but gay marriage foes say the issue is not yet settled.

Before the Washington City Council finalized its decision to legalize same-sex marriage last year, a coalition of the area’s religious leaders tried to put the question to voters through a citywide referendum.

That move was blocked by the city’s board of elections and later by the a D.C. Superior Court judge (The Monitor covered the ruling here). But same-sex marriage opponents are now trying to put the question on the ballot through the District’s initiative process, which gives voters the opportunity to weigh in on existing legislation.

“It’s not over in D.C. by any means,” wrote Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, on the group’s blog. “The people of D.C. have a right, granted by Congress in their charter, to vote to overturn legislation passed by elected officials, just as people in many states (like Maine) have that right.”

In an interview, Mr. Brown said a case over the initiative is pending in the D.C. Court of Appeals.

If the ballot initiative is allowed, many expect that voters would overturn gay marriage. Same-sex marriage has been defeated in the 31 states where the question was put to voters.

Before the city’s law took effect last week – the District granted same-sex marriage licenses last Wednesday, but Tuesday was the first day for gay marriage ceremonies – opponents of the new marriage law asked the US Supreme Court for a temporary injunction. In the court’s decision not to get involved, Chief Justice John Roberts said the case should be handled in the local courts, but that gay marriage opponents had “some force” to their arguments.

“Clearly the law is on our side, and I think the courts will be sympathetic,” says Brown, regarding the effort to have a ballot initiative on the gay marriage question.

In California, voters outlawed gay marriage through a ballot initiative about five months after it was legalized by the state Supreme Court. That vote is now being challenged in federal court on the grounds that it violates the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian couples.

Brown says that Congress, which has so far refused overturn to the District’s same-sex marriage law, can at any time undo gay marriage in Washington. “Congress never loses its ability to act on any question in the District,” he says.

While gay marriage opponents have pledged to continue their fight in the District (the sixth US jurisdiction to legalize gay marriage), same-sex couples were getting married around the nation's capital beginning early Tuesday morning.

In one of the first ceremonies of the day, according to the Associated Press, Angelisa Young and Sinjoyla Townsend wed at the offices of the Human Rights Campaign in Washington. "Today was like a dream for me," Ms. Young said.

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