Harry Jackson, who does not live in Washington, is leading a group to put gay marriage up for a ballot referendum. His chances look slim:

Under D.C. election law, referendums cannot be used to appropriate funds, overturn a budget act or violate the Human Rights Act. Mark Levine, a lawyer and gay rights activist, said he's confident that Mendelson's bill falls under the Human Rights Act. He said the elections board would be "engaged in an extraordinary act of lawlessness" if it allows the referendum to move forward.

"The D.C. government cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, and for them to recognize marriages of straight couples and not to recognize marriages of gay couples would be a clear violation of the Human Rights Act," Levine said.

A spokesperson for the elections board did not return calls yesterday. Jackson said he is willing to pursue the matter in court if the board rejects his application.

If the board approves the application, opponents will have 180 days to meet the requirements of a referendum, which involves collecting signatures from at least 5 percent of the registered voters in at least five of the city's eight wards. That has proved to be a formidable task in previous referendum efforts.

In 2004, supporters of slot machine gambling in the District failed to get their referendum on the ballot after thousands of signatures were deemed invalid.

There's a part of me that would love to see a referendum in D.C. But it's a stupid and vain part. My rights aren't at stake. Still, I think Phil Pannell gets it right:

"It's a different electorate" than in California, Pannell said. "We have a much more activist black, gay and lesbian community here in D.C., and they will step up and speak out and organize against it. But it will be a struggle."

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