Oregon Pushing Gay Union Law As Court Nullifies Marriages
Oregon’s elected leaders are pushing through a gay civil union law on the same day the state Supreme Court nullifed thousands of gay marriages.
Oregon Gay Marriages Voided (365Gay)
The Oregon Supreme Court on Thursday nullified the marriages of some 3,000 same-sex couples who were wed last year. The marriages were performed last March in Multnomah County. (story) The court said while the county can question the constitutionality of laws governing marriage, they are a matter of statewide concern so the county had no authority to issue licenses to gay couples.
The legal case began when the state refused to register the marriages. Circuit Judge Frank Bearden said in an April 20, 2004 ruling that the state was acting illegally in refusing to register the marriages.
The suit finally was appealed to the state Supreme Court. But, the issue of future gay marriage in Oregon became moot last November when voters approved a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage. The suit was quickly amended to call for legal protections for same-sex couples without the issue of marriage to be considered by the high court. But, the court skirted the issue of recognizing same-sex relationships in any form other than marriage saying that the original case only concerned marriage.
There wasn’t much doubt as to how this case would go; counties have never been considered to have the power to nullify state law. Still, the politicians are moving toward a compromise solution:
Gay and lesbian couples in Oregon would have marriage-like rights in the form of civil unions under a bipartisan bill introduced in the Legislature on Wednesday. The move, backed by Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, came one day before the Oregon Supreme Court was expected to rule on the legality of gay marriage. The measure would grant same-sex couples legal protections, rights and responsibilities generally afforded to opposite-sex couples through marriage. “Forming a family is a fundamental right. Oregon should provide a framework that offers legal protections to any loving, committed couple that wants to become a family,” Republican Sen. Ben Westlund said.
In November, Oregon voters joined 10 other states in rejecting a change to the state constitution that would have permitted gay marriage. Tim Nashif, spokesman for the Defense of Marriage Coalition, said that the new bill goes against that November referendum vote. “We don’t believe this (civil union bill) is what Oregon voters intended,” Nashif said.
This bill seems sure to pass. While gay marriage is a hard sell at this point even in the most liberal states, the idea of equal rights is catching on quickly. At some point, the mostly semantic difference will go away.