Oregon commissioners uphold same-sex marriage
March 17 2004 12:00 AM ET
Until a judge rules otherwise, gay couples can continue applying for marriage licenses in Oregon. Despite a plea to halt the practice from Gov. Ted Kulongoski and a nonbinding opinion by Oregon attorney general Hardy Myers that gay marriage is illegal under current state law, the Multnomah County board of commissioners announced on Monday they will keep issuing licenses to same-sex couples. "Multnomah County will continue to issue marriage licenses to all couples, consistent with the Oregon constitution, until such time as the supreme court of Oregon or the citizens of Oregon dictate another course of action," the county commissioners said in a written statement. Couples waiting outside a county office building to apply for marriage licenses cheered, kissed, and embraced after learning the commission's decision. Some came from as far away as Hawaii to get married. "I'm so excited, I'm so happy," said John Bergmann, who traveled to Portland from Sacramento, Calif., to marry partner Gary Hughes. "Thank you, Portland!" yelled Gary Jeroy of Bloomfield, Mich., who was with
his partner of 31 years, Tony Clemente. "We're legal. We're getting married. My knees are shaking."
Multnomah County chairwoman Diane Linn announced on March 3 that a legal review by the county and an independent law firm had concluded that rejecting marriage license applications from gays and lesbians violated the Oregon constitution. An immediate challenge was organized by the hastily formed Defense of Marriage Coalition, led by Multnomah County Republican Party chairman Tim Nashif
and represented by Kelly Clark, an attorney and former Republican state lawmaker. Clark called the decision Monday "awfully foolish and awfully arrogant." Clark failed to win a temporary restraining order against Linn and the county board, but he is pressing his challenge, hoping to win either a preliminary injunction or force the county to justify its decision to a judge. Clark called the county's concern that it could be sued by gay couples "utterly absurd.... Any first-year law student can tell you that you can't get this issue into court as a lawsuit against the county unless it's a civil rights case, and a
civil rights case needs to be about a clearly established constitutional right. Gay marriage is not a clearly established constitutional right."
But Myers, in the opinion he released last Friday, noted there is nothing in the Oregon constitution to prevent gay marriage either. In fact, Myers predicted, the court likely would strike down any ban on gay marriage as unconstitutional despite state law that originally intended marriage to be a union of a man and a woman. The attorney general will review the county decision to keep issuing marriage
licenses, but it was unclear whether the state will take any action. "We're looking at legal remedies available to us and deciding what our office is going to do in response, if anything," said Kevin Neely, spokesman for Myers. The most important thing to Myers and to the governor is to get the case to
the Oregon supreme court, he said. "Again, our goal is to get a final resolution from the courts on this issue as expeditiously as possible," Neely said.
Roey Thorpe, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, which had originally asked the county to review state law, said the group and the American Civil Liberties Union are considering whether to file a lawsuit in other counties asking for approval of same-sex marriage. "On behalf of couples in loving relationships, who live in our state and our community, who work and pay taxes and whose children attend our schools, we thank Multnomah County today for doing the right thing," she said. "It's really
an amazing thing." Clark said the next court hearing in the case is tentatively scheduled for March 26 before Multnomah County circuit judge Frank Bearden.
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