Rosendall testifies against marriage referendum
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Rosendall testifies against marriage referendum

Testimony regarding whether the proposed
“Referendum on the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009”
is a proper subject for referendum in the District of Columbia

Before the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics
Wednesday, January 27, 2010, 10:30 AM
One Judiciary Square, Room 220 South

Good afternoon. I am Rick Rosendall. I live at 1414 17th Street, NW. I am Vice President for Political Affairs of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, and I speak for them.

The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009 passed the D.C. Council by a vote of 11 to 2 and was signed by Mayor Fenty. It is Act 18-0248, and is undergoing congressional review, with a projected D.C. law date of Tuesday, March 2.

The proposed Referendum on the Act would violate D.C. law. This Board last year ruled against a referendum and an initiative that had similar purposes, and was upheld in both cases by the Superior Court. As in those cases, the present Referendum violates a provision of the law enacted at the behest of the Gay Activists Alliance in 1979 which bars any referendum or initiative that “authorizes, or would have the effect of authorizing, discrimination prohibited under Chapter 14 of Title 2....” In 2002, the Human Rights Act was amended to apply its provisions expressly to the District Government.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles wrote to Mr. McGhie on January 22: “Limiting the ability to marry based on one’s gender denies homosexuals the right to marry the person of their choice and deprives them of the over 200 rights and responsibilities of marriage.” That count, incidentally, was performed by GLAA. Nickles continues, “[A]ny effort to limit the ability to marry based on one’s gender and to deny same-sex couples the rights and responsibilities of civil marriage discriminates, or has the effect of discriminating, in contravention of the HRA.”

We agree with Mark Levine and Bob Summersgill that the Referendum would further violate the subject-matter restriction by causing a loss of revenue to the District.1, 2

As the court has found, the Dean case, cited by our opponents in the past, is no longer a controlling authority because the facts and the law have changed. The court also found that the Council acted within its authority in 1979 when it added restrictions to the subject matter of referenda and initiatives. As Lawrence Guyot said during the hearings on the Act, he took part in the historic voting rights project known as Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964, and the right of people to vote on other people’s rights “is not what we were fighting for.”

Insisting on the primacy of ballot measures goes against American traditions of representative government. Our Founders placed constitutional limits on majority rule. Their writings show they distrusted populist government and intended not a direct democracy but a republic.

The eternally unchanging institution of civil marriage portrayed by our opponents is a fiction. Prior to the pursuit of marriage equality by same-sex couples and our allies, civil marriage was changed in a number of ways, including elimination of racial segregation and recognition of the equal status of women. The evolution of civil marriage is part of our nation’s ongoing struggle to live out the true meaning of its creed.

Our opponents talk as if they have a monopoly on faith. In fact, approximately 200 D.C. clergy have signed a statement supporting marriage equality. Act 18-0248 includes an explicit defense of religious liberty—not just for a favored sect, but for everyone. Those 200 clergy, under the Referendum, would be denied their right to solemnize same-sex marriages. The Act infringes on no one’s religion, it merely extends civil marriage to same-sex couples, consistent with a public effort, conducted over decades, to move District law toward full equality for gay people.

The Referendum’s proponents have previously cited junk science to support fear-mongering allegations that children are harmed by being raised by gay parents. Those are baseless slanders.3 Legal adoption by same-sex couples has been a normal occurrence here since 1995.4

During a hearing on a previous anti-gay ballot measure, one opponent of marriage equality held up a copy of the children’s book King & King, calling it a sex book. It is no more a sex book than Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. A federal lawsuit making a similar charge against the book was dismissed in 2007; the dismissal was upheld on appeal in 2008.5 The relentless effort to reduce gay people’s love to sex illustrates the vicious prejudice that we have had to overcome to reach this moment. My own partner and I are among an estimated 36,000 same-sex couples involving an American and a foreign partner, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.6 Our love and commitment have been strong enough to withstand the added legal, financial, and emotional pressures of being separated most of the time by 3,500 miles of ocean.

Marriage is recognized in Loving and other cases as a fundamental human right. The Referendum would discriminate by preventing me from marrying the person I love. That discrimination violates District law, and the Board should therefore reject the Referendum.

Thank you.


1 Christopher Ramos, M.V. Lee Badgett, and Brad Sears, "The Economic Impact of Extending Marriage to Same-Sex Couples in the District of Columbia," The Williams Institute, April 2009,

2 Analysis of the potential revenue implications of same-sex marriages in the District of Columbia, D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer, December 15, 2009,

3 Brad Sears and Alan Hirsch, "No harm done to children of gay marriages: U.S. studies consistently dispute claims of opponents," Edmonton Journal, April 10, 2004,

4 In re M.M.D. v. B.H.M., 662 A.2d 837 (D.C. 1995)

5 Parker v. Hurley, No. 07-1528 (1st Cir. Jan. 31, 2008),

6 Scott Long, Jessica Stern, and Adam Francoeur, "Family, Unvalued: Discrimination, Denial, and the Fate of Binational Same-Sex Couples under U.S. Law," Human Rights Watch and Immigration Equality, 2006,

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