Oregon judge allows gay marriage licenses--for now
March 10 2004 12:00 AM ET
A judge who was asked to block gay marriages in Oregon agrees that the law originally drafted in the 19th century intended marriage to be the union of a man and a woman but questions whether there is any harm in allowing same-sex unions in the 21st century.
Multnomah County presiding judge Dale Koch ruled Monday there is no harm and rejected a request by gay-marriage opponents to block a county decision last week to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. "If you read the statute, it's pretty clear they meant husband and wife," Koch said of the legislature that first drafted the marriage law not long after Oregon became a state.
But the judge rejected arguments by the Defense of Marriage Coalition that allowing same-sex unions somehow causes "irreparable harm" to the state, ruling there is "no clear and convincing evidence" of any damage.
Ken Choe, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, argued that the opposite is true--allowing gay marriage strengthens the state and its families and would finally provide all Oregonians the chance to legally recognize their partners in life. "The whole point of marriage is security for families," Choe said. Gays and lesbians "both need and deserve the opportunity to commit to each other."
Agnes Sowle, the county attorney, argued that board of commissioners chairwoman Diane Linn had not only the authority but also a duty to interpret the law after a gay rights group requested a legal review that concluded the county was at risk of violating the Oregon constitution if it rejected marriage license applications from same-sex couples. "Our county charter makes the chair the chief executive officer, and we have a strong chief executive by design," she said. "To suggest she doesn't have the authority to exercise that power for the county in a legal way is ridiculous."
Besides, the Oregon constitution is "crystal clear" about preventing discrimination of any kind, including restrictions on gay marriage, said Dave Fidanque, head of the ACLU chapter in Oregon.
By Monday evening Multnomah County had issued more than 1,600 marriage licenses to same-sex couples, officials said. "There's a great demand from couples coming from across the state, many of whom have been in committed relationships for decades and believe their families need and deserve the protection and recognition of marriage," said Roey Thorpe, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, the main gay rights group pushing the marriage issue.
Kelly Clark, an attorney for the coalition, said he would return to court to seek a preliminary injunction as the next step in the effort to block gay marriage. Koch set a hearing for 9 a.m. Friday, with attorneys for both sides to schedule arguments.