ACLU Urges Oregon Court to Strike Down Law Preventing Same-Sex Couples from Marrying

April 16, 2004 12:00 am

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PORTLAND, OR – At a hearing today, the American Civil Liberties Union asked an Oregon Circuit Court judge to strike down a state law that prevents same-sex couples from protecting their relationships through marriage.

“The Oregon Constitution guarantees equal treatment for everyone. This means that the state must grant equal marriage rights to all couples, whether they are lesbian, gay, or straight,” said Ken Choe, a staff attorney for the national ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, who argued the case in court. “The state offers straight couples and their children hundreds of protections to help them through hard times. The families of the 3,000 same-sex couples who have already married in Oregon, and those of the countless others who want to do so, need and deserve these safeguards too.”

According to an agreement by the parties, today’s hearing only addressed the constitutional issues raised in the litigation. Opponents of marriage for same-sex couples were represented by the Defense of Marriage Coalition, which relied on familiar stereotypes about gay people by suggesting that gay people are incapable of providing proper parenting for children.

“You don’t protect marriage by destroying families,” said Roey Thorpe, Executive Director of Basic Rights Oregon. “What we know is that healthy children are raised by all kinds of families. What matters most is love and the ability to put children first.”

Marriage opponents also argued that the Oregon Constitution should be interpreted based on views and beliefs of the framers from 1857.

“It’s especially troubling that our opponents would like to turn back the clock to a time when women had very few rights at all,” added Thorpe.

At the hearing and in papers filed with the court, attorneys for the state argue that the court should give the legislature the opportunity to remedy the discrimination by setting up a separate system of “civil unions” that would apply only to same-sex couples.

“Creating a system of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples only serves to highlight the discrimination,” said David Fidanque, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oregon. “If you say gay and lesbian relationships must be ‘unions’ while straight people are allowed to marry, you are saying quite clearly that gay people aren’t worthy of marriage.”

Fidanque continued, “If the constitutional rights of same-sex couples are being violated, the discrimination should end now. It’s perfectly within in the court’s power to strike down the law. The judge has no obligation to hand this over to the legislature.”

The ACLU brought the lawsuit against the state on behalf of nine same-sex couples and Basic Rights Oregon, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy group. Four of the couples are already married after receiving licenses in Multnomah County, two of the couples were hoping to get licenses from Benton County before the decision to stop issuing all marriage licenses there, two couples were denied marriage licenses from the clerk in Lane County, and one of the couples has not applied yet.

Following the hearing, the judge announced that he would issue a decision within one week.

The couples are represented by Choe of the national ACLU and ACLU of Oregon cooperating attorney Lynn Nakamoto of Markowitz, Herbold, Glade & Mehlhaf of Portland.

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