Supreme Court Allows Oregon Marriages to Continue

June 4, 2014 - In a victory for marriage equality, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to halt new marriages between same-sex couples in Oregon. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) sought a stay after the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals denied a similar request two weeks ago. Both the ACLU and the state of Oregon filed briefs opposing NOM’s request.

“With marriages continuing in Oregon, we have 44 percent of the country living in a freedom-to-marry state, and it’s just a reality that same-sex couples are part of marriage in America today,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Across the country, more and more Americans are embracing the truth that their friends, family, and neighbors in same-sex couples deserve the protection and dignity that only come with marriage.”

U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane declared on May 19 that Oregon’s ban on marriages between same-sex couples violates the equal protection clause of the federal constitution and ordered the state to begin issuing marriage licenses immediately.

A few days earlier, Judge McShane denied NOM’s 11th-hour request to intervene in the case saying the request was filed too late and that neither NOM nor its members had met the legal standard necessary to justify intervention in the case.

“We are delighted that the Court has rejected NOM’s attempt to derail marriage equality in Oregon,” said ACLU of Oregon executive director David Fidanque. “We are confident that marriage equality in Oregon will help pave the way for marriage equality nationwide.” 

On May 19, Oregon became the 18th state (plus the District of Columbia) to provide the freedom to marry to committed, loving same-sex couples and Pennsylvania became the 19th state on May 20 through another ACLU lawsuit.

Judge McShane’s decision was issued in response to two separate lawsuits filed by the ACLU of Oregon and private attorneys on behalf of four same sex couples in long term relationships and Basic Rights Education Fund to overturn Oregon’s ban on marriage for lesbian and gay couples. 


May 19, 2014 - Today, U.S. District Court Judge Michael McShane ruled that Oregon’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage is unconstitutional – paving the way for couples to begin marrying immediately.

The lawsuit alleged that Oregon’s constitutional ban on marriage for lesbian and gay couples – Measure 36 – violates the U.S. Constitution. 

“I am so thrilled to have the freedom to marry the love of my life. Marriage strengthens families like mine, and for me, it’s as simple as treating others as one would hope to be treated,” said Paul Rummell, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “No one should be told it is illegal to marry the person they love.”

The consolidated case - Geiger v. Kitzhaber, filed on October 13, 2013, and Rummell v. Kitzhaber, filed on December 19, 2013 – was argued on April 23, 2014. Attorneys Lake Perriguey (Law Works, LLC) and Lea Ann Easton (Dorsay & Easton, LLP), argued on behalf of plaintiff couples Deanna Geiger and Janine Nelson, and Robert Duehmig and William Griesar. Attorneys Rose Saxe and Amanda Goad (American Civil Liberties Union), Kevin Diaz (ACLU of Oregon), and volunteer counsel Misha Isaak and Tom Johnson (Perkins Coie, LLP), and Jennifer Middleton (Johnson, Johnson & Schaller, PC), argued on behalf of two additional couples – Paul Rummell and Ben West, and Chris Tanner and Lisa Chickadonz – and Basic Rights Education Fund.

“The importance of Judge McShane’s decision cannot be overemphasized,” said David Fidanque, executive director of the ACLU of Oregon. “Our federal Constitution does not allow any state – or its voters – to deny same-sex couples equal protection under the law simply because of who they are and who they love. This type of discrimination is wrong and it’s also unconstitutional.”

"Our clients - Deanna Geiger and Janine Nelson and Bob Duehig and Bill Griesar - are grateful the Attorney General, Governor, Ms. Woodward and Mr. Walruff carefully considered their position and so clearly articulated Oregon’s position that it values our relationships and commitments to each other and our families," said Lee Ann Easton, an attorney at Dorsay & Easton who, with co-counsel Lake Periguey, filed the Geiger case. "They are very pleased the District Court adopted their position along with the Rummell plaintiffs  in his decision. With this advancement of civil rights, gay and lesbian Oregonians are now equal under the law.”

“After years of working in every way possible way to bring the freedom to marry to Oregon, today is a historic day,” said Vanessa Usui, board chair of Basic Rights Education Fund. “Starting with a ballot measure, and ultimately with this court victory, we have finally ensured that all loving, committed same-sex couples are free to marry in Oregon.”

“Today’s ruling acknowledges that Oregon same-sex couples are entitled to equal dignity under our Constitution,” said Misha Isaak, who argued on behalf of the Rummell plaintiffs at the April 23 hearing and serves on Basic Rights Oregon’s legal advisory group. “We are parents, siblings, neighbors, coworkers, and friends, just like our fellow Oregonians, and we have the same constitutional rights as our fellow Oregonians. Our loving, committed relationships are worthy of the state’s equal recognition. Finally, they will get it.”

“Today Oregon joins the increasing number of states in embracing the freedom to marry for all,” said Rose Saxe, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “This decision brings us one step closer to ensuring that all loving and committed couples will be able to take care of each other and their loved ones with the protections and dignity that only come through marriage.”

The anti-marriage equality group National Organization for Marriage (NOM) attempted to intervene in the case just before the April 23 hearing. On May 14, Judge McShane denied their motion. NOM filed an appeal in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on May 19, and also requested an emergency stay of Judge McShane’s ruling. The request for a stay was denied, but the appeal is still pending.


Judge Set to Issue Decision in Lawsuit Challenging Oregon's Marriage Ban

May 19, 2014 - Judge Michael McShane filed notice last Friday that he will issue a decision in Oregon's consolidated equality case—Rummell vs. Kitzhaber and Geiger vs. Kitzhaber—today at noon. Attorneys in the case have argued that Oregon’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage is unconstitutional. 

With the noon hour decision time approaching, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has filed a motion for an emergency stay with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals trying to stop Judge McShane’s decision. NOM wants to appeal Judge McShane’s decision from last week that denied NOM’s attempt to intervene in our case. We anticipated this maneuver and, within minutes, filed our preliminary responses in opposition to their request for a stay. The State defendant's have also filed their preliminary response urging the court to deny the emergency motion.

UPDATE: The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied NOM's motion for a stay.


Judge Denies Motion to Intervene

May 14, 2014 - Judge McShane denied the National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) motion to intervene saying “this is an Oregon case, and it will remain an Oregon case.” Advocates for marriage equality argued that the National Organization for Marriage was too late to intervene in the case, and didn’t have standing. The case began last year, and NOM filed their motion to intervene in the case at 11:04 p.m. two days before oral arguments.

In his ruling from the bench, Judge McShane found that NOM had “no credible reason for failing to notify the court” earlier of their intent to intervene, and didn’t have standing to intervene “simply because the organization disagrees with the interpretation” of state and county officials who have declined to defend the marriage exclusion.

The judge could rule any day on the larger question of whether Oregon’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage is unconstitutional, as attorneys in the case have argued.

So far, over a dozen judges have ruled for the freedom to marry since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act last year. Once Oregon wins marriage equality, Multnomah County has said that it plans to start issuing licenses right away to gay and lesbian couples.

BACKGROUND ON THE CASES:
Attorneys filed two lawsuits last year in the federal court in Eugene to challenge laws that exclude same-sex couples from marriage in Oregon. In October, attorneys Lake Perriguey and Lea Ann Easton filed the first case, Geiger v. Kitzhaber, on behalf of two couples. In December, staff attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Oregon, and volunteer counsel Misha Isaak and Tom Johnson of Perkins Coie, LLP, and Jennifer Middleton of Johnson, Johnson & Schaller, PC, filed a second case, Rummell v. Kitzhaber,  on behalf of two same-sex couples who wish to marry in Oregon and Basic Rights Education Fund. In January, the judge, Michael McShane, consolidated the two cases.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced in February that Measure 36 is indefensible. “Sexual orientation does not determine an individual’s capacity to establish a loving and enduring relationship,” she wrote in a brief filed with the court. “The ban cannot withstand a federal constitutional challenge under any standard of review.”

The National Organization for Marriage in Washington D.C. filed a motion to intervene in the case, and now the judge is hearing arguments about how to rule.


Oregon's Marriage Equality Lawsuit: Attorneys Argue Marriage Ban Is Unconstitutional

April 23, 2014 - EUGENE  Excluding loving, committed same-sex couples from marriage in Oregon is unconstitutional, attorneys said during oral arguments today in Oregon’s marriage equality lawsuit, the Rummell v. Kitzhaber and Geiger v. Kitzhaber consolidated case.

In his opening argument in front of U.S. District Judge Michael McShane, ACLU cooperating attorney Misha Isaak of Perkins Coie, LLP said:

“Oregon’s marriage exclusion tells loving, committed same-sex couples that their relationships are unworthy of equal recognition. It demeans same-sex couples, who the Constitution protects. And it humiliates children being raised by same-sex couples.

READ MORE


Opponents of Marriage Seek to Join Lawsuit
ACLU Statement on Expected Motion to Intervene in Marriage Litigation by NOM
by Executive Director David Fidanque

April 22, 2014 - The ACLU will oppose the motion to intervene because it was not made in a timely manner. We are disappointed that the opponents of the freedom to marry waited to file this motion until just hours before oral arguments are scheduled before the court.

These cases were filed many months ago and their progress has been well covered by the news media. The court provided an opportunity for interested groups and individuals to file friend of the court briefs and that deadline passed in early April.

The opponents of marriage are making a last-ditch effort to justify discrimination and stand in the way of loving and committed couples. Treating people differently just because of who they are and who they love is discrimination and the time for that kind of discrimination has passed. 

There has been a major shift in the views of voters nationwide and here in Oregon on the marriage issue over the past few years. Support for the freedom to marry in Oregon has risen to 55% which represents a major turnaround from 2004 when the marriage ban was approved.


State Marriage Brief: Oregon Marriage Ban Has No Rational Basis

March 19, 2014 – In its response to the ACLU’s constitutional challenge of Oregon’s ban on marriage by same-sex couples, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum declared that the marriage ban “serves no rational basis and harms Oregon citizens.”

READ MORE


Oregon Attorney General Declares Ban on Marriage for Same-Sex Couples Indefensible

February 20, 2014 - Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced today that the state will not defend Oregon’s constitutional ban on marriage for same-sex couples in the case Rummell v. Kitzhaber. The ACLU of Oregon and Basic Rights Oregon welcomed the announcement.

READ MORE


ACLU Files Suit to Challenge Oregon’s Ban on Marriage for Same-Sex Couples

December 19, 2013 - Eugene, OR – The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Oregon, and volunteer counsel from the law firms of Johnson, Johnson & Schaller, PC and Perkins Coie, LLP filed a federal lawsuit today in U.S. Dis

trict Court in Eugene on behalf of two same-sex couples who wish to marry in Oregon and Basic Rights Education Fund.

The lawsuit alleges that Oregon's constitutional ban on marriage for lesbian and gay couples—Measure 36—violates the U.S. Constitution.

In October, attorneys Lake Perriguey and Lea Ann Easton filed a separate suit, Geiger v. Kitzhaber, in U.S. District Court in Eugene that also seeks to overturn Measure 36. The state recently filed its initial response in that case, but no hearing has been scheduled. The ACLU attorneys will soon request to have the two cases consolidated so they can be heard jointly by the court. The ACLU’s attorneys plan to work collaboratively with the attorneys from the first case and bring the issues before the court expeditiously.

Basic Rights Education Fund and the ACLU of Oregon are committed to winning the freedom to marry for all loving, committed couples in Oregon. Both organizations have been working toward this goal for more than a decade, in the legislature, the courts and the public arena. There is currently an initiative campaign underway to ask Oregon voters to replace the state marriage ban with the freedom to marry in November 2014. This lawsuit, which reinforces the suit filed in October, is a parallel effort to secure marriage equality in Oregon for same-sex couples.

“We are committed to working in every way possible to bring the freedom to marry to Oregon in 2014,” says Vanessa Usui, board chair of Basic Rights Education Fund. “Working simultaneously on a ballot measure campaign, as well as in court, is the best way to ensure that all loving, committed same-sex couples are free to marry in Oregon by this time next year.”

This lawsuit follows a series of recent decisions that recognize the legal harms that occur when couples are denied the ability to marry or recognition for their marriages. These include the ACLU's victory in June before the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor, which held that the federal government must recognize the marriages of lesbian and gay couples who are married under state law, and the Oregon Attorney General’s opinion issued in October that the state of Oregon must recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples performed out-of-state.

“Since the Oregon Attorney General recently concluded that it is unconstitutional for Oregon to refuse to recognize valid out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples, we think the time is right for the court to decide that the state must also allow couples who reside in Oregon to marry here,” says David Fidanque, ACLU of Oregon Executive Director.

"The past few years have seen enormous progress as more and more Americans agree that committed same-sex couples should have the same protections and dignity that only come with marriage," says Rose Saxe, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. "This lawsuit is another step to ensuring that all loving couples have the freedom to marry."

The plaintiff couples in the case are Paul Rummell and Ben West, and Lisa Chickadonz and Christine Tanner.

“We have been together for nearly 30 years. We have raised two wonderful children, are involved in our church community and are respected in our work. We have done everything we can to legally protect our family and each other,” Chickadonz says. “I was raised in a culture where marriage was a very important milestone. When you were lucky enough to fall in love with someone, you got married. I have loved Chris for half of my life and I want to marry her. It’s as simple as that.”

Plaintiffs West and Rummell have been together for seven years. Early in their relationship, they discovered their mutual goal to be fathers and together they took the steps and training necessary to become foster parents. Their lives were changed when a young boy was placed in their care.

“We have been able to help our foster son grow and develop beyond the trauma of his early life and we will do everything to protect him. Soon the adoption process will be complete and we will officially be his dads,” West says. “Our son deserves to have a family that is fully recognized and protected by the state of Oregon. I never want our son to feel that his forever-family is less worthy than any other family. When Paul and I can say we are married, everyone will know and understand we are a family.”

The ACLU volunteer cooperating attorneys in the case are Jennifer Middleton, of Johnson, Johnson & Schaller PC, Thomas Johnson, Julia Markley, Kristina Holm and Misha Isaak, of Perkins Coie LLP,  as well as Rose Saxe and Amanda Goad, of the ACLU Foundation LGBT Project, and Kevin Díaz, of the ACLU Foundation of Oregon.