Gay Marriage Licenses Invalid, Says Oregon Supreme Court

In its long-awaited ruling on Thursday, the Oregon Supreme Court invalidated 3,000 marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples last year, citing Multnomah County with a breach in authority for granting the licenses.

Last April, Multnomah County began to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until Circuit Judge Frank Bearden halted the action six weeks later. By then, nearly 3,000 marriage licenses had been granted.

The case eventually reached the Oregon Supreme Court when the state’s Defense of Marriage Coalition argued that the marriage licenses were invalid.

The Supreme Court stated in its ruling that the county does not have authority to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, because marriage laws are under the jurisdiction of the state.

The court’s decision cited a state law and a constitutional amendment passed last November that ban same-sex marriage.

The court’s statement read: “Today, marriage in Oregon – an institution once limited to opposite-sex couples only by statute – now is so limited by the state Constitution as well.”

The court also recognized that decisions on marriage are under the power of the state legislature, opening up the door for lawmakers to decide whether or not to allow other types of unions between same-sex partners.

State legislators will use the high court’s decision to guide their actions on the issue of same-sex couples, an issue that has become the subject of nationwide debate.

On Wednesday, Governor Ted Kulongoski announced a bill legalizing same-sex civil unions. The bill would give same-sex couples the rights and privileges of marriage.

Co-sponsored by Senators Kate Brown (D-Portland), Alan Bates (D-Ashland), Frank Morse (R-Albany), and Ben Westlund (R-Bend), the bill is part of Kulongoski’s promise to protect gays and lesbians in the state from discrimination.

On Wednesday, legislators in Connecticut approved a bill similar to the one proposed by Kulongoski. The amended bill awaits a second approval in the Senate before being sent to the governor.

If it passes, Connecticut would be the first state to allow same-sex civil unions without being prompted by a court order. Vermont recognizes same-sex civil unions and Massachusetts allows same-sex marriage, but in both states the actions were motivated by court rulings.