Federal Judge Strikes Down Oregon Marriage Ban

by Charles Joughin

State attorney general will not defend the amendment

WASHINGTON – Today U.S. District Judge Michael McShane 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.  Following the ruling, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin issued the following statement:

“Today’s ruling from Judge McShane affirms what a majority of Oregonians already knew: discrimination has no place in our society, much less the state constitution.  The plaintiffs and their tremendous attorneys Lake James Perriguey, Lea Ann Easton, Perkins Coie LLP, the ACLU of Oregon and the ACLU, should be incredibly proud of their historic victory.  Thanks to their willingness to fight and the decades of work done by groups like Basic Rights Oregon and countless others, America is now one giant step closer to full equality nationwide.”

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.

Earlier today the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request by NOM for a stay on marriages in anticipation of Judge McShane’s ruling in the case. The motion pointed out that the state previously indicated it would immediately implement a ruling striking down the marriage ban.

In today’s ruling, 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.”

recent poll from Oregon Public Broadcasting found that 58 percent of Oregon voters support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

There are over 70 marriage equality cases working their way through the judicial system across the country.  These cases have been filed in 30 states plus Puerto Rico and account for hundreds of plaintiffs taking on state marriage bans.  Same-sex couples can legally marry in seventeen states and the District of Columbia, while 33 states have a law or constitutional amendment restricting marriage to the union of one man and one woman.  Same-sex couples began marrying in Utah, Michigan and Arkansas after courts struck down marriage bans in those states.  Marriages have since been put on hold while the cases are on appeal.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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