A federal court has ruled that Oregon’s laws excluding gay and lesbian couples from marriage are unconstitutional. The ruling came in two consolidated cases, where several Oregon couples sued for the right to marry their partner of the same gender. Under its state statutes and state constitution, Oregon had explicitly defined marriage as a between a man and a woman. As a result, gay and lesbian couples have not been able to wed in Oregon.
That changed yesterday, with the district court’s ruling. In the opinion, Judge Michael McShane explained that the laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits states from “deny[ing] any person . . . the equal protection of the laws.” He determined that these laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and found no rational basis to support such discrimination. In reaching this conclusion, the court specifically looked at two purported justifications for differentiating on the basis of sexual orientation: (i) tradition and (ii) protecting children and encouraging stable families. Appeal to tradition (aka argumentum ad antiquitatem) is a logical fallacy and, as the judge noted, “would simply turn rational basis review into a rubber stamp condoning discrimination against long-standing, traditionally oppressive minority classes everywhere.” The judge also found that Oregon’s interest as a government in protecting children and encouraging stable families, although legitimate, was also not rationally related to its marriage discrimination laws. He noted that in passing the domestic partnership law, the legislature “acknowledged that our communities depend on, and are strengthened by, strong, stable families of all types whether headed by gay, lesbian, or straight couples.”
Notably, the effect of the court’s ruling is immediate and won’t be appealed. The state defendants in the case had already conceded that Oregon had no rational basis for its sexual orientation discrimination, and the federal appellate court denied a request for emergency relief from a national anti-gay group, leaving no one in the case to appeal the court’s decision. As gay and lesbian couples have already begun to enter into state-sanctioned marriages, many doors will open for them. From employment benefits to taxation exemptions, gay and lesbian couples now have the same opportunities and advantages under the law as straight couples who decide to marry.
Read the opinion here: http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/files/mcshane.pdf