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:

Oregon legislators, governor back gay civil unions (Reuters)

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.

Update: Michael Demmons finds a silver lining in the court’s ruling which BoiFromTroy thinks may ultimately turn the issue.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. bryan says:

    The legal issue in this case was pretty much a slam dunk. I don’t see how people could be upset with the ruling. But they will be.

  2. Paul Deffebach says:

    I think the key issue surrounding gay marriage and civil union is spousal insurance. The cost of insurance will skyrocket if companies are required to cover gay partners. Will Oregon’s civil Union Law require spousal insurance benefits? That is where the big bucks are.

  3. Michael says:

    So, now MONEY is the reason???

    Hey! Screw that right to life. Medical insurance prices skyrocket when we pay millions to keep people on machines. LOL!

    That was a good one, Paul.

    I do get a kick out of how conservatives dispute how many gay people there actually are (“10%? More like 2-4%, I say!”) Of course, if I asked Paul to justify how 2-4% of the popularion could cause medical insurance to skyrocket…

  4. bryan says:

    Just as a BTW, the supreme court recognized marriage as a “right” in Loving v. Virginia, if I’m not mistaken, so that’s not really a silver lining.

  5. John Thacker says:

    Connecticut is also passing civil unions (as explicitly “not marriage”.) Legislative action seems to result in more moderate solutions with less backlash than the courts.

  6. bryan says:

    “Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival. ” – loving v. virginia


  7. Scott Dillard says:

    Actually, federalism is working quite well across the country on this issue. Marriage in Massaschusetts, civil unions in Vermont and Connecticut, Domestic Parterships in California. Except for Mass, all of them were done by the state legislatures. More states will follow, and many will not. That, in theory, is the way federalism is supposed to work. I still believe that the government should grant only civil union licenses and couples should then have a “marriage” if they wish. No denomination would be required to perform them or recognize them. It’s like the Catholic Church and divorce.

  8. bryan says:


    The way you describe federalism working is going to be an administrative nightmare. Just for instance, let’s say someone has a civil union in Conn., but decides to move to Texas. Upon becoming a resident of the state (after living there permanently for six months), “Joe” gets sick and has to be admitted to intensive care. “Bill” tries to get in to visit by explaining that he’s “civil unionized” in Connecticut. But what are the odds that such will work in Texas?

    No, federalism is going to lead directly to the steps of the supreme court, and this whole thing will be adjudicated whether we like it or not.