Moral Low Ground

US Government

Same-Sex Couples Marry In Oregon After Federal Judge Strikes Down Ban

Same-sex couples rushed to marry in Oregon on Monday after a federal judge struck down the state’s voter-approved constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

US District Judge Michael McShane, one of the few openly gay federal judges in the nation, ruled Oregon’s same-sex marriage ban violates the constitutional rights of LGBT individuals.

“Because Oregon’s marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest, the laws violate the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Judge McShane wrote in his ruling.

“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,” wrote McShane. “Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure.”

The judge said the state’s ban harmed same-sex couples and their children in “a myriad of ways,” including adoption rights, employer spousal benefits and tax laws. He asserted that one of the main conservative reasons for opposing marriage equality– the preservation of the ‘traditional’ family– was not a good enough argument for allowing the state’s discriminatory law to stand.

Tradition, wrote McShane, had the potential to be used as a “rubber stamp condoning discrimination against longstanding, traditionally oppressed minority classes everywhere.”

McShane, 53, noted that he “grew up in a world in which homosexuality was believed to be a moral perversion, a mental disorder or a mortal sin.”

“I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries,” he wrote, referring to same-sex marriage foes who sometimes warn that LGBT marriage equality will lead to polygamous, incestuous and even interspecies marriages. “To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather let us look to each other… and rise.”

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a last-minute push by the anti-gay, anti-equality National Organization for Marriage (NOM) to block McShane’s ruling, The Oregonian reported.

McShane additionally ordered that his ruling take effect immediately, sending dozens of jubilant couples rushing to marry. The first couple to tie the knot were Deanna Geiger and Janine Nelson, two of the plaintiffs in the case, who were married in the Multnomah County building in Portland. The women exchanged their vows surrounded by a crowd of supporters, including many county officials. The couple had waited 31 years for their special moment.

There were numerous couples waiting in line behind Geiger and Nelson.

“It’s the final step to be truly a family,” Patty Reagan, who married her partner Kelly, told the Washington Post. “Everyone else takes for granted that they have this right.”

Unlike the other states in which same-sex marriage bans were struck down by judicial action, there was no one with any immediate legal standing to appeal the decision, meaning Oregon’s same-sex marriages are likely to stand.

Most recently, judges have overturned gay marriage bans in IdahoArkansasVirginiaOklahomaTexasUtah, Michigan and New Mexico. Same-sex marriages are on hold in many of those states as higher courts consider legal challenges from equality foes.

Currently, LGBT marriage equality has been achieved in 17 states, the District of Columbia and a handful of Native American tribes.

David Fidanque, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon, told The Oregonian that “we have reached a tipping point in this nation” in regard to marriage equality.

“We’re at most two years away from a resolution of this issue nationally,” predicted Fidanque.

Critics of the Oregon ruling noted it was yet another example of what many conservatives call “judicial activism” overruling the will of a state’s people. Some 57 percent of Oregon voters approved the 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, one of 11 successful state ballot initiatives to do so during that election. Some 3,000 same-sex couples had married just before the discriminatory ban was approved by voters; their marriages were later invalidated under the amendment by the state Supreme Court.

“[Judge McShane] did this without anybody legally representing the people of Oregon,” NOM spokesman Brian Brown told Reuters. “This is a perfect example of a lawless kangaroo court.”

But John Kitzhaber, Oregon’s Democrat governor, hailed the ruling.

“No longer will Oregonians tolerate discrimination against the gay, lesbian and transgender community,” Kitzhaber declared in a statement praising McShane’s decision.

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