An Oregon judge may have ordered Multnomah County to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but he also ordered the state to recognize the 3,000 licenses already issued.
The decision Tuesday by Judge Frank Bearden marks the first time in the nation that a judge has recognized gay marriage. An immediate appeal is expected.
On Tuesday, Katharine Sprecher and Nitzye Gonzalez sat in the corner of the Multnomah County clerk's office and sobbed, wiping away each other's tears. They had filled out a marriage application, gotten married at the Metropolitan Community Church, and returned to the clerk's office with the paperwork to make it all official. But their return came just moments too late. "I was a little shell-shocked. I was expecting this day to turn out very different," Sprecher said. "I didn't realize there was going to be a ruling today. I thought we had until Thursday."
"These are the first legally recognized gay marriages in the country," said Dave Fidanque, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. "In no other same-sex marriages that have taken place has there been a court order saying the state must recognize them. That's what's truly historic about this opinion."
Bearden told the county to cease issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples until the Oregon legislature has a chance to fashion a new law, perhaps allowing Vermont-style civil unions. He gave the legislature 90 days from the start of its next session to come up with the new law. If that doesn't happen, Multnomah County can resume issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The legislature could convene in Salem as early as June for a special session that had been intended to focus on tax reform. But Bearden's ruling generated little enthusiasm among lawmakers, who seem leery about getting bogged down in a stalemated special session this summer. Senate president Peter Courtney, a Democrat who supports civil unions, said gay marriage deserves "quiet, thorough deliberations."
House speaker Karen Minnis, who opposes same-sex marriage, said lawmakers should meet in June to place a gay marriage ban on the statewide ballot if an initiative campaign falls short. "The best solution would be to amend the state constitution to define marriage as [being] between one man and one woman, the definition of marriage that Oregonians have known for generations," said Minnis, a Republican.