Cases & Advocacy

Jackson v. D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics

Status: Closed

Outcome: Victory

Location: Washington, D.C.

NCLR was a member of the Campaign for All D.C. Families, a diverse coalition working to achieve and preserve marriage equality for same-sex couples in the District of Columbia. Since July 6, 2009, D.C. has recognized the marriages of same- sex couples performed in other jurisdictions. On December 15, 2009, the D.C. City Council passed “The Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009,” which permits same-sex couples to marry. Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the measure, which took effect on March 3, 2010.

Opponents of marriage equality, funded largely by national anti-LGBTQ groups including the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and the Alliance Defense Fund, have made several attempts to put on the ballot initiatives to overturn D.C.’s marriage equality laws. They first sought a referendum in June 2009 to allow voters to reconsider the District’s law providing for the recognition of marriages between same-sex couples from other jurisdictions. When the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics rejected that referendum, the anti- LGBTQ coalition filed an unsuccessful court action, Jackson v. D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (“Jackson I”), to require the Board to hold the requested referendum.

After Jackson I failed, the same group filed a stand-alone initiative seeking to prohibit any recognition by the District of marriages between same-sex couples. On November 17, 2009, the Board issued an administrative order rejecting this proposed measure, ruling that it was not a proper initiative subject under the city’s 1977 Human Rights Act prohibiting discrimination including on the bases of gender and sexual orientation, and the group once again appealed that ruling in D.C. Superior Court, in a case known as Jackson II. The District government was permitted to intervene in the case in support of the Board. The Campaign for All D.C. Families (including NCLR) and D.C. Clergy United sought to intervene in the case as well, but the Superior Court judge granted those groups amicus status.

On January 14, 2010, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia in Jackson II upheld the Board’s decision, granting summary judgment for D.C. and the Board. The court found that the proposed initiative would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act. On the broader issues, the court also ruled that the D.C. Human Rights Act is a valid restriction on initiatives, and that under this longstanding law, initiatives may not be approved to limit the rights of a minority group. On July 15, 2010, that decision was affirmed by the D.C. Court of Appeals, the District’s highest court. The United States Supreme Court unanimously denied review on January 18, 2011.

While Jackson II was being litigated in the Superior Court, the same anti-LGBTQ group filed yet another petition with the D.C. Board of Elections, this time seeking a referendum on the District’s new law permitting same-sex couples to marry. The Board rejected that referendum as well, and on February 5, 2010, the petitioners filed a third case in the D.C. Superior Court (“Jackson III”) challenging the Board’s decision. On February 19, 2010, the Superior Court rejected the petitioners’ request for a preliminary injunction in Jackson III. On February 26, 2010, the D.C. Court of Appeals issued a summary affirmance of the decision denying the injunction. The petitioners sought an emergency stay from the United States Supreme Court, but Chief Justice Roberts rejected that request on March 2, 2010. They also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order in the federal district court (“Jackson IV”), which was denied on March 3, 2010.

Because all the legal efforts to halt the implementation of the law have failed, and because Congress declined to pass a resolution disapproving the measure, D.C.’s new marriage equality law went into effect as scheduled on March 3, 2010.

The Campaign for All D.C. Families, of which NCLR was a coalition member, was represented in this matter by attorneys at Covington & Burling LLP.