The American Civil Liberties Union was scheduled to appear before the Oregon supreme court on Wednesday to ask the court to rule that the Oregon constitution requires that same-sex couples receive the same legal protections that straight married couples receive.
"This lawsuit has always been about protecting same-sex couples and their families," said Ken Choe, a staff attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "While we've had to change tactics somewhat in light of the passage of Measure 36, we're optimistic that the court will recognize that lesbian and gay couples make lasting commitments just like heterosexual couples and should not be denied the many protections of marriage."
Following a decision by the commissioners of Multnomah County to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in March, the ACLU brought a lawsuit against the state on behalf of nine same-sex couples and Basic Rights Oregon that charges it's a violation of the state constitution's guarantees of fairness and equality to deny same-sex couples the protections and rights of marriage.
While the case was working its way through the courts, the Defense of Marriage Coalition, a group opposed to equality for same-sex couples, sought to prevent lesbian and gay couples from marrying by pushing for a constitutional amendment to end the public debate over the issue. Measure 36 passed on November 2.
"Basic Rights Oregon, along with many gay and lesbian couples, are still committed to working for marriage," said Roey Thorpe, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon. "But we recognize that getting same-sex couples the same legal protections that married couples have would be a huge step forward. Our families need to be protected, and we are hoping the Oregon supreme court will see that it is just not fair to treat people who've been together for years as if they are strangers."
Prior to the passage of Measure 36, the ACLU asked the court to remedy the state's complete failure to recognize same-sex couples by ending the exclusion from marriage. In light of the amendment's passage, the ACLU is no longer arguing for marriage in this case but will argue instead that the state must still provide the protections and benefits of marriage through some other mechanism.
In addition, the ACLU is asking the court to find that the state of Oregon is obligated to fully recognize the marriages of the 3,000 same-sex couples who received marriage licenses from Multnomah County earlier this year. "These couples did everything they were legally required to do under state law to marry," said David Fidanque, executive director of the ACLU of Oregon. "Amendment 36 is not retroactive, and since these marriages took place before the amendment was passed, it should have no effect on the legality of these marriages."