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Oregon Gay Marriage: One Year Later

What's going on with gay marriage in Oregon?

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Rally for GLBT Rights at Oregon Capitol
Kathy Belge
On March 3, 2004 Multnomah County, Oregon (Portland) began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Thus, Oregon became the second place in the United States to legalize gay marriage, after San Francisco in February 2004. Whereas the marriages in San Francisco were ruled null and void in August of 2004, the marriages in Oregon are in somewhat of a legal limbo. The Oregon Supreme Court has yet to rule on the matter.

Background

In early 2004, the Multnomah County Commissioners, with an eye on the gay marriages being performed in San Francisco, looked at the Oregon Constitution and decided that it would be unconstitutional to continue to prohibit gays and lesbians from applying for marriage licenses. On March 3, 2004, the County Commissioners announced that they would begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. More than 3,000 gay and lesbian couples were married in the following weeks until an Oregon Circuit Court judge ordered that the marriages be stopped.

Ballot Measure 36

In November, voters in Oregon passed an amendment to the constitution that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. But because the measure was passed AFTER those marriage licenses were issued, those marriages performed in March and April in Portland could still be valid. The Oregon Supreme Court has heard arguments on the case and is expected to rule on the validity of those marriages sometime in March 2005.

Civil Unions and Gay Rights

On the anniversary of the first gay marriages in Oregon, 1,000 people gathered at the Oregon Capitol in Salem to rally and lobby for gay rights. With the passage of the amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage, gay rights leaders are now putting their efforts towards passing legislation that would protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, education and public services. Oregon's govenor, Ted Kulongoski supports passing a law to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. Currently in some parts of Oregon it is still perfectly legal to fire someone because they are gay or lesbian.

Gay leaders are also pushing for civil union legislation which will give gay and lesbian couples some of the rights and responsibilities of marriage.

The state's largest gay and lesbian organization, Basic Rights Oregon, has filed a lawsuit, contending that the anti-gay marriage act passed by the voters in November is unconstitutional.

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