Gay Activists Argue for Civil Unions in Oregon's Same-sex Marriage Case

After Oregon passed a constitutional marriage amendment defining marriage between one man and one woman, gay activists decided to switch from seeking same-sex marriage to civil unions in a case to appear before the Oregon Supreme Court next month.

The American Civil Liberties Union, arguing on behalf of same-sex couples, will now ask the Supreme Court to grant them legal homosexual civil unions.

"This changes our case in only one way. We are no longer seeking marriage," said Ken Choe, an ACLU attorney, according to Reuters. "But we do believe that the Oregon Constitution requires equality with respect to the protections that come with marriage."

Before the Nov. 2 election, gay-rights groups campaigned against Measure 36, which would amend the Oregon Constitution to only recognize marriage between heterosexual couples, and argued that anything less than marriage for homosexuals would still be discriminatory. But since 57% of Oregonian voters joined 10 other states in approving marriage amendments, some gay-rights groups have reconsidered their stance on civil unions.

"Marriage is the only road to full equality — but providing most of the protections of marriage is better than having none of the protections. We're willing to accept that for the time being," David Fidanque, executive director for the Oregon chapter of the ACLU, told the Associated Press.

The Defense for Marriage Coalition, the group which petitioned to put Measure 36 before voters, has not taken an official position on civil unions. President Bush is working toward passing a federal marriage amendment banning same-sex marriages but has said many times that he would let states decide on civil unions.

Some pro-family groups disagree with using civil unions as a middle ground. In an editorial published on USA Today, Robert Knight of the Culture and Family Institute said civil unions are “just gay marriage by another name” and suggested homosexual activists would only use them as a “Trojan horse for gay marriage.”

Kelly Clark, attorney for the Defense of Marriage Coalition, said that regardless of the group’s position on civil unions, the main issue in current lawsuit before the Supreme Court is the validity of the 2,961 same-sex marriages performed in Multnomah County earlier this year.

"I'm not saying they couldn't file a new lawsuit to ask for civil unions. I'm saying it's too late to ask for that in this lawsuit. We just think the heart of the case has been rendered moot by the passage of the ballot measure," Clark told AP.

"The people have amended the constitution to say what marriage means. It means it's between one man and one woman — so that question is off the table now," Clark said in the same article.

She added that the same-sex marriages were invalid from the beginning without Measure 36, which did not retroactively invalidate the marriages.

In July, a judge from the second court of appeals upheld a previous ruling that ordered county officials to register the same-sex marriages. However, the judge said the registered marriages are not valid until the Supreme Court rules on the case.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Ben Westlund, who voted "yes" on Measure 36, is working on legislation for the next Congress to allow civil unions.

The Oregon Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on December 15.