Federal judge strikes down Oregon ban on same-sex marriage


Plaintiffs, from left, Lisa Chickadonz, Christine Tanner, Ben West and Paul Rummell, walk hand-in-hand out of federal court, where a federal judge heard oral arguments in two cases challenging Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage in Eugene, Ore., on  April 23. (Don Ryan/AP)

A U.S. District Court judge struck down Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage Monday, the seventh ruling that a state’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court decision invalidating sections of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The decision came after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a bid by the National Organization for Marriage to stay the ruling. The Oregon judge, Michael McShane, had denied NOM’s effort to intervene in the case.

“Because Oregon’s marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest,” McShane wrote, “the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

“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,” he wrote. “Families who we would expect our constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure.”

After last year’s Supreme Court decision, bans on same-sex marriage have been overturned by federal judges in six other states: Idaho, Utah, Michigan, Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas. Those cases are on appeal.

But in Oregon, McShane’s decision to leave NOM out of the case means there is no one with standing to appeal his ruling. Oregon officials, anticipating the ruling, prepared to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples almost immediately.

In Portland, couples lined up outside the Multnomah County clerk’s office in anticipation of Monday’s ruling, according to the Associated Press. Among them were Laurie Brown and Julie Engbloom, who got engaged on their 10th anniversary in April, AP reported.

“We always knew we wanted to spend our whole life together,” Brown said. “This opportunity has come. It feels right. Everything has fallen into place.”

Four gay and lesbian couples sued over the ban on same-sex marriage, and state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum (D) said earlier this year she would not defend the decade-old law.

Oregon voters passed the constitutional amendment defining marriage as reserved for heterosexual couples in 2004 by a wide 57 percent to 43 percent margin. Public opinion polls show state residents would vote to reverse themselves: A poll conducted last week showed that 58 percent of Oregon voters would vote for a proposed constitutional amendment to allow same-sex marriage.

Oregon was the only state to put a pro-same-sex marriage initiative on the ballot this year, though after McShane’s ruling, supporters are likely to withdraw the measure.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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