HRC Blog

BREAKING: Federal Judge Strikes Down Oregon Marriage Ban

Update (12:24 PDT): Federal judge orders marriage licenses to be made available to same-sex couples immediately 

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane has ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in two consolidated marriage cases challenging Oregon’s ban on marriage equality, known as Measure 36. Judge McShane’s is the latest in a string of rulings striking down state laws or constitutional amendments that ban marriage for same-sex couples.

In today’s ruling citing the U.S. Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment, Judge McShane wrote, “Expanding the embrace of civil marriage to gay and lesbian couples will not burden any legitimate state interest… 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.”

He goes on to write,

"At the core of the Equal Protection Clause, however, there exists a foundational belief that certain rights should be shielded from the barking crowds; that certain rights are subject to ownership by all and not the stake hold of popular trend or shifting majorities...

“My decision will not be the final word on this subject, but on this issue of marriage I am struck more by our similarities than our differences. I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure. With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community.

"Where will this all lead? I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries. To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other ... and rise.”

Marriage licenses will be available to same-sex couples in Oregon today. Oregon law requires a three day waiting period before a ceremony can take place after a license has been issued. However, this waiting period may be waived by county clerks and many counties have indicated they will wave the wait period.  Click here to learn more about the licensing process at Oregon United for Marriage.

The cases were both filed in late 2013 in District Court for the District of Oregon. Geiger v. Kitzhaber was filed by Lake James Perriguey of Law Works LLC and Lea Ann Easton of Dorsay & Easton LLP on behalf of two couples, one seeking to marry in Oregon and the other legally wed in Canada seeking for their marriage to be recognized by the state. Rummell v. Kitzhaber was filed by attorneys with Perkins Coie LLP, the ACLU of Oregon, and the ACLU on behalf of three couples, two of which are seeking to marry in Oregon. The third couple was married in Oregon in 2004, but the Oregon Supreme Court and Measure 36 invalidated their marriage a short time later. In January 2014, the cases were consolidated.

On Wednesday of last week, Judge McShane rejected an attempt to intervene by the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM) in defense of the marriage ban. The judge said NOM hadn’t adequately made its case that it should be allowed to intervene on behalf of three Oregon members who would remain anonymous, in place of Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.  In February, Rosenblum announced she would no longer defend Oregon's ban.

HRC is a proud founding member of Oregon Unites for Marriage, the coalition campaign formed to win marriage in Oregon.  Along with Oregon ACLU, Basic Rights Oregon, and Freedom to Marry, HRC contributed $125,000 to the campaign as well as providing additional funds to hire the Director of Faith Outreach.

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