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Judge's ruling opens door to same-sex marriage

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Federal lawsuit plaintiff Ben West celebrated Monday afternoon after a federal judge struck down Oregon's 10-year ban on same-sex marriage.Couples lined up to be married Monday afternoon, after a federal judge struck down Oregon's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

“No legitimate state purpose justifies the preclusion of gay and lesbian couples from civil marriage,” Judge Michael McShane wrote in U.S. District Court in response to a pair of lawsuits, each representing one male and one female couple.

Oregon United for Marriage, the group gathering signatures on a potential ballot measure to overturn the ban, reserved the Melody Ballroom for nearly 12 hours Monday to host same-sex marriages.

“We congratulate all the happy couples who can now walk down the aisle and finally say those two magical words: ‘I do,’ “ the group’s spokesman, Peter Zuckerman, said in a statement on its website.

“We are forever grateful to all the plaintiff couples and the legal team, who put their lives on hold to secure this historic victory.”

Click here to read Judge Michael McShane's decision.

One lawsuit, Rummell v. Kitzhaber, involved the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and Basic Rights Oregon. The other, Geiger v. Kitzhaber, was filed independently. They were combined into one case.

McShane issued his ruling after a federal appeals court rejected a last-minute bid by the National Organization for Marriage to delay his decision. The organization had asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to decide first its appeal of whether it could substitute for the state in defending the ban; McShane ruled last week that it could not.

“The people of Oregon are entitled to a defense of their decision on marriage rather than being abandoned in court,” said Brian Brown, president of the organization.



McShane struck down the decade-old ban as a violation of the equal-protection guarantee under the 14th Amendment. Such marriages could be performed legally in Oregon within hours if county clerks are willing to waive a three-day waiting period for people getting marriage licenses.

House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said she and her partner would get married.

“Today’s historic ruling means that all Oregonians will have the legal right to marry the person they love,” said Kotek, the first lesbian to lead a legislative chamber in the nation. “The ruling affirms that the public promise of love and lifetime commitment should be available to everyone. This is the ruling our state deserves because Oregonians believe in equality and fairness. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make this happen. After a 10-year engagement, my partner Aimee and I are thrilled to join the many other Oregon couples getting married this year.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Sarah Wolfarth and her partner Lakia Davis react with tears of joy Monday afternoon after U.S. District Judge Michael McShane's decision to strike down Oregon's prohibition on same-sex marriage.

‘Brightest days in history’

The Oregon Senate’s top leaders also weighed in with favorable comments.

“Marriage equality is about fairness. It’s about justice. It’s about caring,” said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem.

Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland, said the decision now meant that same-sex couples would "receive all of the benefits of a recognized marriage.”

“Today marks a monumental step toward greater equality for Oregon," Rosenbaum said. “Like many Oregonians, today I am celebrating the end of an era of discrimination and the beginning of a brighter and more equal future for all Oregonians. Monday May 19th is one of the brightest days in Oregon's history — this day is about love and justice for all Oregonians.”

House Republican Leader Mike McLane of Powell Butte, whose members have weighed in on both sides of the issue, was more cautious.

“For those that believe marriage is a religious covenant, the origin of which predates America, today’s federal court ruling won’t change that,” he said. “For those that believe marriage is a legal union between two people that is recognized and enforced by our state government, today’s ruling is a logical extension of the Supreme Court's ruling last summer. Our society must embrace both views.”

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Federal lawsuit plaintiffs Deanna Geiger and her partner Janine Nelson hugged their lawyer Monday morning while waiting for a marriage license in Multnomah County. A U.S. District Court judge struck down Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage in a 26-page ruling.

Similar rulings

A decade ago, 3,000 licenses were issued by Multnomah County — Oregon’s most populous — to same-sex couples. But while a challenge to Oregon law was pending before the Oregon Supreme Court, voters approved the constitutional ban in November 2004. The high court then ruled in 2005 that the ban turned aside the challenge — and that the county lacked the legal authority to issue the licenses.

Judges have issued similar rulings in about a dozen states. However, virtually all of them have been stayed by federal or state appellate courts while appeals are pending. So same-sex marriages have been put on hold, most notably in Idaho, where they had been scheduled to begin Friday.

In the pair of cases before Judge McShane, however, state officials are the only ones who currently have legal standing to ask for a stay as a preliminary step toward an appeal. But neither Gov. John Kitzhaber nor Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum chose to defend the ban in court.

Both lawsuits have one male and one female couple as participants. One lawsuit was brought with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and Basic Rights Oregon. The other is independent.

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