Oregon county ordered to resume issuing marriage licenses
August 27 2004 12:00 AM ET
An Oregon county that had stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether until a court could decide the legality of same-sex marriage has been ordered to resume issuing licenses.
On Wednesday, Senior Judge Wayne R. Harris ruled that Benton County must resume issuing marriage licenses, saying officials there had failed to provide a service. Though his order didn't specifically mention same-sex couples, it's expected that Benton County officials will give licenses only to heterosexual couples.
The county stopped issuing licenses in April, after the state threatened to sue if the county followed through with its decision to allow same-sex couples to marry. County commissioners, trying not to discriminate, decided that no one should get a license.
A heterosexual couple sued the county, arguing that they were entitled to a marriage license as taxpayers. County officials countered that the couple could easily drive to a neighboring county until the gay-marriage issue was settled.
Before halting the issuance of marriage licenses, Benton County had been poised to follow Multnomah County as the state's second county to allow same-sex marriages; more than 3,000 marriage licenses were issued to gay and lesbian couples in Multnomah County.
In November the Oregon supreme court is slated to begin debating the constitutionality of Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage. Voters also may settle the issue since a proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage is on the ballot.