Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed paperwork today making clear her office won't defend Oregon's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage—answering two lawsuits challenging the ban in federal court that are on track for a ruling later this year.
The definitive statement comes near the end of the seven-page court document filed by Rosenblum's office. And it's unmistakeable.
Rosenblum's stance is good news—and it puts Oregon on a par with several other states that have made the same calculation. Virginia, Arizona, California, and others have all figured that defending a discriminatory ban would be a losing cause constitutionally and morally. That courage among states has grown in the past months, following the US Supreme Court's decision to kill the federal Defense of Marriage Act last summer.
It's unclear, however, how Rosenblum's stance will affect a simultaneous effort in Oregon to pass a ballot measure removing the marriage ban from the state's constitution. Oregon United for Marriage is almost finished collecting signatures ahead of what they hope will be a vote in November.
A favorable court ruling could sap some vigor from that effort. Although, as advocates for a vote will point out, a court ruling can be appealed—tying up legal same-sex marriages for several more months in an uncertain legal process. A vote would be clean and easy. And a definitive statement by the people that discrimination isn't welcome.
More statements and reaction are expected later this morning, so stay tuned.
Update, 12:50 pm:
The groups that filed one of the lawsuits Rosenblum won't defend were actually pretty measured and cautious at a news conference just before noon.
David Fidanque, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, and Basic Rights Oregon Executive Director Jeana Frazzini cheered the decision, but stopped short of calling Rosenblum's announcement a slam dunk.
"I wouldn't declare victory quite yet," Fidanque said, noting that (one-sided) briefs and (one-sided) arguments still need to go before US District Judge Michael McShane.
But Fidanque allowed Rosenblum's announcement "certainly brightens the prospects" McShane will overturn Measure 36. "That's probably a pretty heavy understatement," he admitted.
The ACLU and BRO filed the lawsuit on behalf of two Portland couples—Paul Rummell and Benjamin West, and Lisa Chickadonz and Chris Tanner— both of whom also spoke at a short press conference.
"It's incredibly meaningful for us," said Tanner. "We want to be able to get married in our church, in our state. The power of being legally sanctioned is enormous."
Meanwhile, Oregon United for Marriage announced this morning it has more than enough signatures to land a repeal of Measure 36 on the November ballot. The group needs 116,284 valid signatures and has more than 160,000 ready.
But the group will hold off on submitting the petition, it says, while the court case plays out.
"We are confident that we have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot if we need to do so," campaign manager Mike Marshall said in a statement. “Now that we have done the hard work of assuring a place on the ballot and moving public opinion, we have the ability to wait for the courts to do the right thing."
Oral arguments are next scheduled in the case on April 23.