A federal judge on May 19 struck down Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage. The ruling was effective immediately.
U.S. District Judge Michael McShane ruled the ban is unconstitutional, clearing the way for gay couples to marry that afternoon.
McShane wrote, "At the core of the Equal Protection Clause … 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… 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 luring 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… .Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other … and rise.”
A motion by the right-wing National Organization for Marriage to intervene in the lawsuit and wage an appeal was filed before McShane's ruling with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. And it was denied before McShane's ruling.
The judge ruled in a case brought by four same-sex couples who argued the state ban discriminated against them and other gay couples and excluded them from a fundamental right.
The couples and their attorneys found support among their state officials, who did not defend the ban in court and vowed to immediately comply with a ruling against the ban.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, responding to the news, said, “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."
More than 70 lawsuits, including one in Wisconsin, are in the courts challenging anti-gay marriage laws in 30 states. A challenge also is pending in Puerto Rico.
Oregon, unless there is a surprise and further court challenge, becomes the 18th marriage equality state. Same-sex couples can also marry in the District of Columbia.
"It's an historic day for Oregon," U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley said in a statement.
He added, "In our personal lives, most of us share the aspiration to find someone we love and settle down to make a life together. To be able to share life’s joys and trials. To create a family together. To be able to celebrate that love and declare publicly in front of friends and families our lifelong commitment to that person we love. And now, in Oregon, this most basic freedom — to marry the one you love — is a reality for every Oregonian."
Thalia Zepatos, director of public engagement at the national Freedom to Marry, helped organize for marriage equality in the state. Zepatos said, "Today Judge McShane did the right thing for families, affirming that the denial of marriage to committed same-sex couples in Oregon is unconstitutional. In recognition of the strong support for marriage among Oregonians, no one with legal standing, including our state attorney general, wanted to go down in history as defending discrimination.
"Across the country, the courts agree: same-sex couples and their families need the protections of marriage, and anti-marriage laws are indefensible. With over 70 marriage cases now making their way through the courts, today's decision in Oregon underscores that all of America is ready for the freedom to marry."
Justin Pabalate, an Oregon resident and longtime volunteer with Marriage Equality USA, worked as a field organizer for Basic Rights Oregon. He said, "After working long, hard, endless hours to bring the freedom to marry to Oregon, I am overwhelmed with joy to finally have the chance to say 'I DO!' in front of my friends and family."
Tracy Hollister, MEUSA program manager and a former Oregonian, said, "I'm delighted to hear the news that my home state of Oregon has become our country's 18th freedom to marry state! Marriage Equality USA and the National Equality Action Team have been standing by ready to provide national phone banking support for the ballot initiative to win marriage in Oregon in case it was needed. With today’s decision wedding bells will ring out across Oregon, and we will redirect our volunteer power to other states to build even greater support nationwide for marriage equality."