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Same-sex marriage advocates prevail

Couples receive licenses in Clackamas County after judge rules against state marriage ban


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Melissa Coe, an officiant who owns Melissa Coe Ceremonies in Lake Oswego, stands in Jeld-Wen Field in Portland with a pair of clients who tied the knot: from left, Sarah and Kate (last names withheld for privacy).This has been a good month for same-sex marriage advocates.

A U.S. District Court judge this week ruled in favor of nixing Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage — and a measure that would have enabled wedding service providers to deny services to same-sex couples looks like it won’t make it on the November ballot.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane on Monday ruled that the state marriage ban was unconstitutional. Attorneys filed two lawsuits last year in the federal court in Eugene to challenge laws that exclude same-sex couples from marriage in Oregon, and the cases were combined, going before McShane. There were four couples, two male and two female, and McShane said in his written opinion that the couples have loving relationships like any other and deserve the right to wed.

“My decision will not be the final word on this subject, but on this issue of marriage I am struck more by our similarities than our differences,” the opinion said. “I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure. With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion and service to the greater community.”

Clackamas County Clerk Sherry Hall said four same-sex marriage licenses and seven heterosexual marriage licenses were issued on the day of the ruling.

Melissa Coe, who owns Melissa Coe Ceremonies in Lake Oswego, said as a celebrant and officiant, it never made sense to her to deny her clients the right to marry, no matter who they love.

“Why in God’s name would I deny that?” she said. “Isn’t that what we are called to do?”

Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church Rev. John Kerns said from the Catholic perspective, marriage is both for the unity of the couple and for procreation, but he added there are a lot of variances, even for heterosexual couples. Kerns said the new law should be respected.

“Of course we always show kindness and compassion to all people and (are) respectful of couples in civic marriages, be they gay or straight,” Kerns said.

McShane on May 14 also ruled that conservative group National Organization for Marriage did not have the right to defend Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage, still in place at the time. McShane said he was not willing to grant legal status to an out-of-state organization that has 100 Oregon members. A lawyer for NOM appealed McShane’s ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We believe it is imperative that a party be able to appeal any adverse ruling and that we are entitled under the law to intervene to defend the measure and appeal any adverse ruling,” said a statement on NOM’s website."

The group has until the end of August to do that, and it's effort to stay the judge's decision failed.

The governor and state attorney general had already announced they would not defend the ban, and there is no one else with the legal authority to appeal it.

Same-sex marriage is legal in 17 other states and the District of Columbia.

Oregon United for Marriage had gathered enough signatures to put a pro-same-sex marriage measure on the November ballot, but because of McShane’s ruling, that won’t be necessary.

“There’s an incredible outpouring of support and joyous couples who are ready to make that commitment of love and responsibility,” said Gus Wendel, deputy press secretary for Oregon United for Marriage.

Also, the Oregon Supreme Court earlier this month approved the language for a ballot measure that would have allowed wedding professionals to refuse to serve a same-sex couple who is having a civil union or marriage ceremony. But conservative group Oregon Family Council, the measure’s advocate, didn’t like the language the court okayed, dropping its efforts to pursue the measure. The claim was that businesses should have a religious exemption from civil rights laws.

“Religion is more than just private worship,” the group says in a press release on its website. “It involves public expression on moral and social issues.”

The Civil Rights Division of the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) enforces Oregon´s civil rights laws, which ban discrimination against individuals because of characteristics that make them part of a protected class. Places that must abide by these laws include a place where the public is served, such as a restaurant or a hotel. Protected classes include gender and sexual orientation.

By law, it is discrimination to turn couples away, and Coe has made it easier for same-sex couples to pinpoint wedding service providers such as herself who are accepting and welcoming, not just reluctantly obeying the law. Coe said she and Holly Pruitt, a celebrant, reached out to wedding professionals, asking them to sign up if they support same-sex marriage, creating the Wedding Professionals United for Marriage with the support of Basic Rights Oregon, an organization that advocates for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

Coe said if a business serves the public, it should serve everyone equally.

“I understand that people feel like they should have the right to make decisions for themselves, but they can’t make decisions against other people,” she said.

Portland Tribune reporter Peter Wong contributed to this story.


By Jillian Daley
Reporter
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