PORTLAND— It was, it seemed, only a matter of time.
With legal barriers steadily falling one by one in neighboring states — including even largely conservative Idaho last month — the arrival of same-sex marriage in Oregon became predictable.
On Monday, May 19, it happened. U.S. District Judge Michael Mc-Shane in Eugene ruled that Oregon’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage was unconstitutional— thus allowing gay couples to begin marrying immediately. The lawsuit alleged that Oregon’s constitutional ban on marriage for lesbian and gay couples — Measure 36 — violated the U.S. Constitution. That ban was approved by 57 percent of voters in a fall 2004 election, largely through the efforts of Oregon Family Council (OFC) and other concerned Christians who worked diligently to place it on the ballot.
Basic Rights Oregon, Oregon United for Marriage, and other groups backing same-sex marriage hailed McShane’s ruling as a historic step for freedom and equality, as same-sex couples immediately lined up throughout the state for marriage licenses. But within minutes Oregon Family Council issued a statement that blasted the ruling as the result of apparent “collusion” and “legal shenanigans” by McShane, “key elected officials and special interests.”
“May 19, 2014 will be remembered as a tragic day for Oregonians and our cherished system of representative government,” the OFC statement continued. “The tragedy began when the attorney general and governor spurned their sworn duty to uphold the state constitution by refusing to defend a key provision duly passed by some 57 percent of the electorate. Next (McShane) through an abuse of technical shenanigans literally barred any argument defending the Oregon constitutional definition of marriage from being presented in court.”
Said Teresa Harke, OFC’s communications director: “While newscasts feature tearful couples at staged P.R. activities in courthouses across the state, the real tears should be for the next generation as we witness our constitutional republic sink into a Banana Republic.”
The National Organization for Marriage, which attempted to intervene in the Oregon case but was denied by McShane, is filing emergency appeals with a higher court, requesting the right to present a defense of the 2004 constitutional definition of marriage.
“Perhaps due process will yet prevail,” the OFC statement concluded.
Proponents of same-sex marriage in Oregon hae been pursuing legalization for decades. Their efforts received a huge boost last June, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Attorneys then filed two lawsuits in the federal court in Eugene to challenge the law excluding same-sex Oregon couples from marriage. Had McShane not made his ruling, advocates of same-sex marriage had planned to file with the state a proposed initiative for this November’s ballot to eliminate the ban on same-sex marriage. Volunteers since last year collected 160,000 petition signatures from Oregon voters —far more than enough to qualify the measure for a statewode vote.
According to the same-sex marriage proponents, recent independent polls had shown 58 percent of Oregonians supporting the freedom of gay couples to wed.