A federal judge in Oregon on Monday struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, continuing a streak of judicial rulings in favor of gay and lesbian couples seeking equal marriage rights and benefits.
In a 26-page opinion handed down Monday afternoon in a U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon, Judge Michael McShane wrote that a 2004 amendment to the state's constitution violates same-sex couples' right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“The Equal Protection Clause does not allow classifications drawn solely for the purpose of disadvantaging a particular group intentionally singled out for unequal treatment,” Judge McShane said in his ruling. “The state's marriage laws unjustifiably treat same-gender couples differently than opposite-gender couples. No legitimate state purpose justifies the preclusion of gay and lesbian couples from civil marriage.”
It is unclear if Judge McShane's verdict will be subjected to an appeal, since each of the defendants in the case — including Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Gov. John Kitzhaber — announced in February that they would no longer defend Oregon's same-sex marriage ban in court, and in fact argued for its invalidation in subsequent briefings.
“The defendants concede that Oregon's marriage laws banning same-gender marriage are unconstitutional and legally indefensible, but state they are legally obligated to enforce the laws until this court declares the laws unconstitutional,” Judge McShane noted in his decision. “The case, in this respect, presents itself to this court as something akin to a friendly tennis match rather than a contested and robust proceeding between adversaries.”
Judge McShane also pointed out in his ruling that although state legislation passed in 2007 had promised to extend approximately equal spousal rights and benefits to same-sex couples, “time has tarnished the promise of domestic partnerships.”
Couples in same-sex domestic partnerships “encounter institutional obstacles when lawyers, courts, and health care and funerary service providers are unfamiliar with the rights that domestic partners are entitled to under the law,” including power of attorney rights and retirement benefits, Judge McShane said. “Such rights and protections pass automatically to married couples.”
Judge McShane's ruling makes Oregon the 10th state to have its legal ban on same-sex marriage wholly or partially overturned in federal court since the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2013 ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, which invalidated provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman. The other states are Idaho, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia.