Oregon: Judge Says Marriage Ban Is Unconstitutional

Judge Michael McShane ruled Monday that same-sex couples in Oregon should have the right to marry.

BY Michelle Garcia

May 19 2014 3:23 PM ET

Judge Michael McShane

A federal judge in Oregon has ruled that the state's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane, who ruled last week that the National Organization for Marriage had no standing to defend the law in court, ruled Monday that the 2004 ban is unconstitutional, according to Oregon United for Marriage. The ruling means same-sex couples can begin marrying immediately, and local officials are reportedly ready to issue them licenses.

In his decision, McShane wrote that the couples challenging the law clearly are examples of strong relationships, although that is not a prerequisite for state recognition of marriage. He said that granting gay and lesbian couples the right to marry would not have any effect on other families and couples, nor would it burden the state.

"Oregon law recognizes a marriage of love with the same equal eye that it recognizes a marriage of convenience," he wrote. "It affords the same set of rights and privileges to Tristan and Isolde that it affords to a Hollywood celebrity waking up in Las Vegas with a blurry memory and a ringed finger. It does not, however, afford these very same rights to gay and lesbian couples who wish to marry within the confines of our geographic borders."

He continued, "Because the state is unable to extend to opposite-gender relationships the full rights, benefits, and responsibilities of marriage, it is forced to burden, demean, and harm gay and lesbian couples and their families so long as its current marriage laws stand. ... The state's marriage laws unjustifiably treat same-gender couples differently than opposite-gender couples. The laws assess a couple's fitness for civil marriage based on their sexual orientation: opposite-gender couples pass; same-gender couples do not. No legitimate state purpose justifies the preclusion of gay and lesbian couples from civil marriage."

Ron Wyden, Oregon's senior U.S. senator, cheered the decision on Twitter this afternoon shortly after the decision.

"YES! Marriage equality has come to Oregon," he wrote "Everyone should be free to marry the person they love – plain & simple."

Sen. Jeff Merkley also issued a statement upon the judge's ruling, congratulating same-sex couples on the right to marriage.

“Today is a momentous day in Oregon’s fight for equality," he said. "Lifetime love and commitment should be celebrated and honored, not relegated to second-class status. Today, Oregon is a better place for all who live here. This ruling will strengthen families and communities and ensure that every Oregonian is treated equally under the law.”  

NOM wanted to step in to defend the law since Oregon's attorney general has refused to do so, but McShane ruled that NOM does not have standing to do so because it is a national organization with only about 100 members in Oregon.

"This is an Oregon case. It will remain an Oregon case," McShane said last week, regarding the D.C.-based organization.

Oregon attorney general Ellen Rosenblum had refused to defend the ban on behalf of the state, saying at a hearing in March that it "serves no rational purpose." NOM chairman John Eastman said the group's Oregon members — including a county clerk and wedding services providers — voted for the ban in 2004, which compelled it to defend the law.

Shortly after the ruling's release today, NOM filed for a stay with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which was promptly denied. 

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