Oregon county commissioners reaffirm right of same-sex couples to wed

BY admin

April 03 2004 12:00 AM ET

Multnomah County, Ore., commissioner Serena Cruz issued a public apology to her colleague Lonnie Roberts, saying she and three other commissioners shouldn't have decided to allow same-sex marriages in the Oregon county without letting him know first. But Cruz and every other commissioner except Roberts voted Thursday to reaffirm the county's policy of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The 4-1 vote came after more than 200 witnesses had their say in four sessions of testimony. The public forums and vote arose after the commissioners received harsh criticism for changing marriage laws without public say.

County commission chairwoman Diane Linn said her ruling on March 3 to allow the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples was an administrative policy decision. Her sudden announcement surprised not only most Multnomah County residents but Roberts as well. Because of his more conservative leanings, the four other commissioners had cut him off from discussions on the issue. While calling the decision "a responsible path" to preserve the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians, Cruz apologized to Roberts. "For my part, I am sorry," she said. Roberts was quiet throughout the hearing and made no statement supporting his position at the end of the session. "I appreciate the apology," he said. "It doesn't change the fact that it was done in a clandestine way."

Roberts said he was dismayed by the number of same-sex marriage supporters who dismissed the importance of governmental process. Without that process, he said, government "will run into trouble down the road." Other commissioners said the necessity for same-sex marriages is evident. Commissioner Lisa Naito noted that although religious organizations in the county are divided on the issue, "Multnomah County issues civil, not religious, marriage licenses." To deny gay and lesbian couples marriage licenses relegates them to second-class status, she said. Linn said she plans to review notes she took during the hearings but said it wouldn't change her position in support of same-sex marriages. She said commissioners will later "talk more about the elements of this process that could have been improved."

After the session, Linn said she thought the hearings were valuable opportunities not only for commissioners to hear from their constituents but for those on both sides of the issue to listen to each other. The 55 speakers on Thursday were more or less evenly divided on the issue. Critics of the decision permitting the marriages spoke out against Linn's sudden and unannounced departure from previous policy. Most cited religious objections. Supporters of same-sex marriage praised Linn for courage in separating the civil aspects of marriage from the religious.

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