A judge on Tuesday ordered a halt to same-sex weddings in an Oregon county that for weeks has been the only place in the nation where same-sex couples could get married.
Judge Frank Bearden said he believes the Oregon constitution would allow either civil unions or gay marriage, but he said a state supreme court ruling is needed first. He also said "public debate and legislative action may be required to carry out the court's mandate." The ruling came in a lawsuit that has consolidated all the arguments over same-sex unions in hopes of a quick ruling by the Oregon supreme court.
Officials in Multnomah County, which is home to Portland, began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples on March 3 after a legal review determined it was unconstitutional to ban applications from same-sex couples. About 3,000 gay couples have been married in the county since then.
The action effectively ends gay marriage nationally, because Multnomah County was the only jurisdiction in the country known to allow same-sex weddings. On May 17, the state of Massachusetts is slated to begin allowing gay marriage in accordance with a November ruling of the Massachusetts supreme judicial court.
Kevin Neely, a spokesman for the Oregon attorney general's office, called Bearden's decision "a big step in what will be a bit longer process.... Our goal from the beginning was to get a ruling from the supreme court, but this initial ruling does provide at least some clarity and a framework for moving to that next step. The real key here is to give the legislature an opportunity to craft a law that the courts will deem constitutionally sound."
Bonnie Tinker, of the pro-gay marriage group Love Makes a Family, was critical of the judge's order to stop gay marriage in Multnomah County for the time being. "I am extremely disappointed that this will not continue until there is an Oregon supreme court decision, especially when there is so much legal opinion that it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex marriages in Oregon," said Tinker, who married her partner of 27 years in the Quaker Church last Saturday.