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Marriage equality a reality in Oregon

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.”

More reaction: 

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.”

 

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UPDATED: Right-wing group denied emergency stay to block gay marriage in Oregon

The right-wing National Organization for Marriage on May 19 filed an emergency appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals seeking a stay any gay marriage proceedings in Oregon. And not long after the filing, the motion was denied.

A federal judge has just ruled for marriage equality, and NOM had wanted to get in line for a stay.

NOM wanted to argue that it should be allowed to intervene in the federal case. NOM also wanted the appeals court to strike down any ruling in favor of marriage equality in Oregon.

In a news release, NOM president Brian S. Brown, said the case was an “ugly example” of cooperation between Oregon’s attorney general and “the gay marriage lobby, both of whom want to redefine marriage in contravention of the overwhelming decision of the people to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The people of Oregon are entitled to a defense of their decision on marriage rather than being abandoned in court.”

In a series of rulings this past year, judges in the federal and state courts have overturned state measures prohibiting same-sex marriage and last summer the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal ban on same-sex marriage in the so-called Defense of Marriage Act of 1996.

NOM alleged in its motion with the appeals court that government clerks and business people will “will face injury if marriage is redefined.”

Meanwhile, in Maine, the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices staff issued a report concluding that NOM intentionally violated state law by failing to register or report its activities despite playing a central role in co-managing and funding a $3 million marriage referendum campaign in 2009.

The report said, “The staff views NOM’s failure to register and file financial reports as a significant violation of law. Maine people deserve to know who is funding political campaigns to influence their vote.” 

The report recommends civil penalties against NOM totaling $50,250 and that NOM be directed to register as a ballot question committee and file campaign finance reports reflecting its contributions and expenditures in support of the 2009 Maine referendum.

The commission will vote on the staff recommendation at its meeting on May 28.

“This detailed investigative report once and for all exposes NOM’s fundamental mission to secretly and illegally funnel contributions from a few large unnamed donors to its extreme political causes,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin. “NOM was formed to be an illegal pass-through for a few secret donors to fund discrimination against LGBT Americans. Maine’s regulators have caught on and said enough is enough.”

Over the past four years, following a complaint by Fred Karger, the Maine commission conducted the most detailed investigation of NOM’s activities to date.

The investigation included deposing Brown and subpoenaing documents. The investigation was significantly delayed by a series of lawsuits initiated by NOM intended to stonewall the investigation.

NOM appealed unsuccessfully all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in its effort to evade Maine’s public disclosure law.    

Among other findings, the 37-page investigative report found:

• NOM played the critical leadership role in the 2009 referendum campaign. Political consultants close to NOM had significant leadership positions within the campaign and NOM was by far the largest donor. The commission determined that NOM failed to tell the truth when it stated that it made no expenditures to promote the referendum other than by monetary contributions.

• NOM promised its donors anonymity if they gave directly to NOM. According to the report, “NOM intentionally set up its fundraising strategy to avoid donor disclosure laws.”

• NOM sent out a series of emails specifically soliciting contributions from Maine and received contributions sufficient to require it to register as a ballot question committee.

NOM also qualified as a ballot question committee through contributions from major donors. The report noted that in 2009, NOM raised 75 percent of its revenue from 14 major donors. Contrary to NOM’s representations, the report found that “the basic elements of NOM’s communications are known, and they indicate that NOM told major donors in 2009 about NOM’s activities in support of the Maine referendum and NOM’s specific commitment to financially support the Maine referendum.”

NOM failed to disclose these donors in accordance with state law.

Federal trial begins over anti-gay harassment of boy with Tourette’s syndrome

A federal trial is under way in a lawsuit that accuses Harrisburg, Ore., school officials of failing to protect a middle school boy with Tourette’s syndrome from harassment and attacks.

The boy’s mother testified this week that he was shoved, slapped and taunted by students who thought he was gay.

She pulled him out of the seventh grade in 2010 after he was harassed in a locker room.

The child’s condition makes him socially different; he doesn’t have the same “coping mechanisms or off-the-cuff responses a normal kid has,” his mother said.

The paper did not identify her to protect the identity of the youth, now 15 and living in Alaska. He sat between his mother and lawyer in court.

The lawsuit seeks $250,000.

Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder that typically manifests in early adolescence, sometimes causing muscle tics and verbal outbursts.

The school district’s attorney, Karen Vickers, didn’t dispute that incidents occurred between the boy and other students. But each involved different alleged perpetrators, she said, so district officials could not have foreseen that they would occur.

She also said witnesses for the school district would contradict some of the boy’s accounts.

The district has policies, training and programs designed to discourage such behavior, she said.

Vickers reminded the jury of the setting, a public middle school.

“These are educators,” she said of the defendants. “They want kids to have a positive experience, to get an education — they don’t want kids to push each other and shove each other and mistreat each other . but let’s be honest here. Even if they want kids to treat each other kindly, that doesn’t always happen.”