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Saturday, March 06, 2004  

Multnomah County Gay Marriage Update

It's been an interesting week in Portland, my hometown. As most of you know, the Multnomah County Commissioners made a decision late Tuesday evening that the state constitution did not bar same-sex couples from getting married. Beginning Wednesday morning, they began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Here's what's happened since.

Wednesday, March 3
Multnomah County begins issuing marriage licenses. The immediate reaction is widely varied and intense.

Thursday, March 4
Seperate from the issue of whether gay marriage is a right guaranteed by the Oregon Consititution, a cacophany of critics slam the "process." The Multnomah County commissioners met privately with each other and offered no opportunity for public feedback. They consulted legal advice and determined that they had no legal right to deny marriage licenses to gays and lesbians. Even one member of the commission wasn't in the loop (though a week before their announcement, it was reported in the news). Afterward, this process is called "star-chamber stuff" by some foes.

Editorial staffs across the state use the process issue to dodge the larger question--and no punches are pulled:

What arrogance. What self-indulgence. What breathtaking gall." The commishes employed a "dictatorial approach."
--Oregonian (Portland)

The implications for the impromptu violation of the democratic process in Oregon has very sinister implications for the rule of law in this State.
--Glendale News (Southern Oregon)

Every once in a while, political reformers try to encourage young people to start voting. The question somebody should ask is: Why? What's the point?On some important issues, as we have seen in Oregon, voting hardly matters.
--Democrat-Herald (Albany)

The Multnomah County commissioners have disgraced the Oregon Constitution and broken their pact with the public.
--Statesman Journal (Salem)

Anti-gay foes (an active political bloc) spring into action and use the process issue to drive support for proposed initiatives that would amend the constitution to ban gay marriage. Meanwhile, hundreds of couples receive marriage licenses from the County. Across the street, anti-gay protesters wave signs like one appearing on yesterday's Portland Tribune: "Can [Will?] you escape the wrath of God - Matthew 23:33"

Friday, May 5
The debate rages on talk shows and blogs. Oregon bloggers, a vast and well-informed lot, see their hit totals spike, and on at least one blog, a city councilman joins the discussion. Other Oregon communities begin to discuss with how they'll grapple with the question of issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

Now that everyone's settled down a little, it appears that the county commissioners may well win the "process" question after all. In today's Oregonian, two articles give an evenhanded consideration of the legal issues (seemingly refuting their earlier, ill-advised tough talk). From the first:

Multnomah County leaders endured months of public hearings and meetings before they adopted a domestic partner registry for couples, including gays, four years ago....

Because, county leaders say, the registry required a new law, which demands public hearings and action. By contrast, approving same-sex marriage was an administrative decision, an interpretation of current law.

The second article is , a law professor from the University of Oregon. commentary from Robert L. Tsai

Every elected official in Oregon takes an oath to uphold the laws and constitutions of the state and the nation. In fulfilling these obligations, public officials must independently interpret and apply the law every day in cities and counties around the state (the attorney general may offer his opinion but has no power to settle the legal issue). Invariably, there are real differences of legal opinion. Until a court of final resort has resolved the issues, there is room for good-faith disagreement about the scope of state law and requirements of the constitution.

Some time next week, Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers will issue his opinion on the commissioners' decision. One lawsuit has already been filed to stop the county from issuing further licenses, and more may follow. Expect the next stage of the battle to be legal. Meanwhile, anti-gay activists are chomping at the bit to start collecting signatures for their ballot measure. I'll keep you updated on the happenings.

posted by Jeff | 10:32 AM |
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