Big showdown in D.C. Superior Court over gay marriage this afternoon!

Here’s what’s going on: Opponents of the gay-marriage-recognition law passed this spring by the D.C. Council are asking Judge Judith Retchin to step in and stop the law from taking effect. That’d be a bare assertion of power by the judge—-and Retchin acknowledged as much: “I question whether the court has the authority to stay the effective date.”

That date is July 6, marking the end of the 60-day 30-day period during which the U.S. Congress reviews the marriage-recognition measure. It’s a quirk of D.C.’s serfdom that Congress gets this approval window, and it’s a quirk that’s being exploited by the anti-gay marriage lobby.

Earlier this week, the city’s Board of Elections and Ethics turned down an effort by the gay-marriage opponents to subject gay-marriage recognition to a referendum. The rationale for that decision was that such a referendum would violate the minority-protecting D.C. Human Rights Act.

The motion before Retchin would stop the gay-marriage-recognition measure from taking effect so that its opponents, headed by Bishop Harry Jackson, would have a chance to press their case on why a referendum is, in fact, a legal and proper thing to do.

In considering whether she has the power to stop the clock on the effective date of the city’s pending law, Retchin made clear that she was making no judgment whatsoever on whether the board of elections erred in nixing the referendum. The effective-date question, said Retchin, is the “operative issue before the court. It will really not be the substance of the decision of the board of elections.”

Given the long period that D.C. laws spend in congressional purgatory, Retchin pronounced it “astounding” that the legal question of whether the court can step in during this period and effectively freeze the process in its bureaucratic tracks. But the judge, indeed, appears to be treading new territory here.

On Monday, referendum proponents/gay-marriage opponents will file arguments in the case, to be followed two days later by the elections board and the city’s Office of the Attorney General. Lotta paper flying around.