Oregon Halts Same-Sex "Marriage" Licenses but Recognises Past Licenses

PORTLAND, Ore. On Tuesday April 20th, a Multnomah County Circuit Judge ordered the County to stop issuing gay marriage licenses, effectively ending gay marriage nationally, at least for the present time.

"An overall reading of the marriage statutes and the case law demonstrates that marriage in this state is intended solely to take place between a man and a woman," wrote Judge Frank Bearden in his 16-page opinion.

However, the "Mixed bag" order held a second clause that called for the recognition of the 3,000 licenses already granted in the county, marking the first time a judge has recognised gay marriage. It also wrote that should the Oregon legislature fail to come up with a new law that either bans same-sex "marriages" or "civil unions" in 90 days, the Multnomah County can resume issuing the marriage licenses to gays and lesbians.

"A Supreme Court ruling is needed for legal finality and public debate and legislative action may be required to carry out the court's mandate," he wrote. "It is for the legislature to address the issue of compliance with the Oregon Constitution."

Pro-family groups across the state and nation criticised the "fuzzy ruling" that effectively satisfied no one.

"Public policy decisions, especially those as far-reaching as the radical redefinition of marriage, are meant to be determined by the people and their elected representatives in the legislature, not judges," said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

Bearden wrote that he himself is unsure of how the Oregon Supreme Court would rule. However, he suspected that the state would come to a compromised agreement that would not allow gay marriages, but recognise Vermont-style "civil-unions."

"It is unclear how the Oregon Supreme Court would rule on this issue," said Bearden. "The Vermont method of making a legal decision regarding the present issue and then, in effect, staying the decision until the Oregon Legislative Assembly ... and the public have time for dialogue and debate is the approach favored and therefore adopted by this court."

Meanwhile, pro-family groups in Oregon continued with their petition drive, hoping to place a constitutional marriage amendment that would block both gay marriages and civil unions before the voters this autumn. To show on the ballot, they would need 100,000 signatures by early July.

Bearden's ruling came in a lawsuit made on behalf of the pro-family Catholic Action League of Massachusetts' leader C. Joseph Doyle, who hoped to bring an immediate halt to the same-sex marriage licenses that the county issued since early March.

"What is important is that we do have a clear order shutting down Multnomah County from issuing these defective marriage licenses in the renegade manner that they were doing it," said Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund, co-counsel in the case. "And that is a very big deal, I think."

"Today's decision is a victory for those of us who were seeking an immediate stop to the illegal distribution of same-sex 'marriage' licenses," said Perkins. "However, the court's logic is flawed in stating that it is the Oregon Supreme Court who ultimately must decide the fate of marriage in that state."

At any case, the legislature could convene in Salem, Oregon, as early as June to hear a special session on the issue. Should the legislatures pass an amendment completely banning both civil unions and gay “mmarriages, Bearden's ruling will prove itself to be positive for pro-family groups.

"Staying the decision to allow the amendment process to move forward is the right thing to do," said Erik Stanley, chief counsel of Liberty Counsel and one of the co-counsels in the case, in a statement. "It is up to the people of Massachusetts to decide whether to allow same-sex marriage -- not the courts."

Said House speaker Karen Minnis who hopes to place a complete ban on gay marriages on the statewide ballot, "The best solution would be to amend the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman - the definition of marriage that Oregonians have known for generations."

Pauline J. Chang
Ecumenical Press