No referendum on gay marriage rights

The effort to stop legal gay marriage in Washington, D.C. is turning on some key issues for the District and democratic principles. The District’s Board of Elections and Ethics has ruled that the proposal to put gay marriage to a referendum violates the city’s anti-discrimination law, by permitting the majority to vote on the rights of a minority.

In response, the coalition against gay rights has filed suit arguing that the anti-discrimination law is illegal. The suit claims the District overstepped its authority with its Human Rights Act — by going beyond the narrow democratic control granted the District by Congress. Remember, the District operates under a limited democracy under supervision by Congress — in which its residents have no voting representative. In effect, to prevent the legal recognition of gay marriage, the group proposes that the city as a whole have its democratic rights revoked.

The idea that the minority must be protected from the majority is a tricky one to balance with the idea of democratic rule. But universal civil rights is a good case to use as a model, as majorities keep voting against gay marriage rights while courts keep upholding them. In D.C. the issue of voting rights is raw, so some hyperbole is expected, but this seems off: “For a city that has used the lack of voting rights to define itself, the refusal to put this controversial issue before voters is incredibly hypocritical.” Even if D.C.’s democratic rights are wrongly curtailed, why should that lead to violating the principle of protecting the minority? I don’t get that.

This is really a Sodom and Gomorrah moment for district. By overstepping its narrow democratic mandate — on homosexuality, no less — the city’s leaders bring down the wrath of Father Democracy, who may have to destroy the village in order to save it.

Followup: The D.C. Council voted to permit gay marriage on December 1, gave it a final approval on December 15, and the mayor has signed it. The city also asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed. At the moment, Congressional (non)review – which seems assured unless certain Mormon representatives get their way – is all that is required before we may “watch our nation’s capital city transform officially into Sodom.”

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