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In a ruling issued this afternoon, as promised, US District Court Judge Michael McShane cast down Oregon's 10-year-old constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. It's a conclusion that's been all but certain for months, with state attorney general Ellen Rosenblum promising not to defend 2004's Measure 36, and a wave of similar sentiment washing over the rest of the country.
Oregon now joins a growing number of states where judges have ruled in similar fashion, following last year's US Supreme Court ruling dismantling the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
McShane's ruling almost certainly means an election push to overturn Measure 36 this fall will be suspended. Advocates with Basic Rights Oregon had been plotting for years to win marriage equality at the ballot box, but quickly changed course after local attorney Lake Perriguey, sensing the changing national legal landscape, filed a legal challenge in Oregon last year. Basic Rights Oregon and the ACLU filed their own legal challenge, and eventually those two cases were combined in the case put before McShane.
Stay with us! We'll have more to say after we digest the ruling—including, we hope, some clarity on whether couples will immediately win the right to marry or if they'll have to wait to exercise their right pending further federal appeals. (HIT THE JUMP FOR UPDATES AND PHOTOS!)
Update, 12:50 pm:
After much cheering and many tears, the packed headquarters of Oregon United for Marriage are emptying out, as people go to get married, or watch other people get married, or celebrate in whatever other ways they see fit. No one touched the bagels, and we've got a minute to sit down with Judge McShane's ruling.
Among the first thing advocates did when the ruling came down was scrutinize McShane's rationale for overturning Measure 36 (which everyone was pretty sure was going to happen). A crucial question is what standard of review the judge applied in deciding exactly why the ban was unconstitutional, since the answer could decide whether the Oregon case is subject to a current fight in the US Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit.
Happily, advocates say, it probably won't. The judge, agreeing with Rosenblum, ruled Measure 36 doesn't fly by any standard.
"Although protecting children and promoting stable families [the crux of opponents arguments against same-sex marriage] is a legitimate governmental purpose, prohibiting same-gender couple from marrying is not rationally related to that interest," McShane wrote. "In fact, the relationship between prohibiting same-gender couples from marrying and protecting children and promoting stable families is utterly arbitrary and completely irrational. The state's marriage laws fly in the face of the state's 'strong interest in promoting stable and lasting families...'"
David Fidanque, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, told the crowd today: "Judge McShane's decision and the grounds on which he made his ruling today insulates his decision from being overturned on standard of review. Let the marriages begin!"
By the way, the Ninth Circuit denied the National Organization for Marriage's bid to stay the case. Meaning everything's a go. Marriages will begin shortly.
Update, 2 pm (from Denis, over at the Multnomah County building):
As promised, Janine Nelson and Deanna Geiger—the couple whose lawsuit first brought Measure 36 before McShane—were the first in line to receive a marriage certificate and the first to officially say "I do," off the side of the jammed lobby of the county building.
"It's real this time," they said after another round of cheers followed them out of the clerk's office, rising as they waved their new legal paperwork. They've been together for 32 years. And they'd been among the Multnomah County couples in 2004 whose marriages had been invalidated. "No one can take it away."
While they were exchanging rings and vows, other couples kept parading out of the clerk's office, also to cheers. Pedicabs kept watch outside, hoping to take people to the big marriage party over at Melody Ballroom. Some couples went for it. Some were matter of fact about the big day.
"We've got to get back to work," one couple explained to the eager driver.
Perriguey was ebullient as he strode through the crowd, confessing he was "impatiently optimistic" McShane would see things his way. Even though a ballot fight was gearing up, he says he watched the DOMA decision and knew he had to act.
"I saw it a long time ago," he says. "We had sufficient cover and authority to bring a case."
He thanked Nelson and Geiger for keeping their faith in him. And he also didn't mince words about the ballot fight that now won't have to happen, calling it "misguided" given the constitutional victory he saw for the taking. The millions that would have had to be raised and spent for a campaign, he said, were a "tax" on gay couples fighting for their rights.
"That money has been saved."
Update, 3 pm:
Mayor Charlie Hales and his wife cruised into the Melody Ballroom earlier in the afternoon, each of them bearing an armload of roses they handed out to couples waiting to get hitched. "Happy day," the mayor said, before heading upstairs to officiate some ceremonies of his own.
Simply being elected mayor doesn't grant Hales the authority to officiate weddings, so the mayor says he went out and obtained that authority "a couple weeks ago" in anticipation of McShane's ruling today. He flexed his newfound power first by presiding over the nuptials of Richard Glenn and Bert Boehm, who've been together for 33 years.
"We already have enough toasters," said Glenn, 52, when the Mercury asked why he elected to get married right away, rather than plan a more-traditional ceremony. "No more toasters, please. We thought the most-important place to be would be among others who have walked the same road."
Two floors below, a daytime gala is in full swing, with delicious-looking catering (the Mercury was sorely tempted, but did not sample what appeared to be carnitas), a cash bar and a DJ. People are hugging and still crying.
Some more pics:
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