Gay and Staying that Way 

County Stands Firm While Governor Cowers

"The verdict is in," said Multnomah County Commissioner Lisa Naito. She was facing several TV cameras and explaining that the county will continue to grant same-sex marriage licenses. That decision came a few days after Governor Ted Kulongoski gave an ambiguous ruling, which said that handing out those licenses may not be legal--but then again, not issuing them may not be constitutional. Kulongoski called for Multnomah County to hold off issuing licenses until the Oregon Supreme Court could resolve the perplexing issue.

But the county will do no such thing, said Naito and Commissioner Serena Cruz.

For the previous week, Multnomah County's decision balanced precariously between antiquated morality and a progressive interpretation of constitutional law. Two weeks ago, the county's attorney determined that refusing marriage licenses to same-sex couples would violate the constitution's equal protection clauses. Yet in spite of the confidence that the county commissioners expressed with the policy change, they were still apprehensive the Oregon Attorney General would overturn their decision.

On Friday, that much-awaited opinion was announced by Kulongoski. "Issuing same-sex marriage license is not permissible under Oregon statutes," Kulongoski explained. "However, as some have argued, denying such licenses may be unconstitutional." It was a middling opinion that condemned the county's policy, but left the door open for the county to continue issuing licenses.

Commissioner Naito dismissed the governor and the attorney general's opinions as "convoluted bureaucratic gibberish." She went on to explain that it is "Law School 101" that a constitutional clause trumps any state law. Naito also admonished the governor for failing to show leadership. Instead, she said the governor "cowers."

"I refuse to sacrifice the law for politics," Naito added. "Multnomah County has been given the choice of obeying the constitution or pandering to the governor... my choice is clear: I will not thumb my nose at the constitution."

The decision by Multnomah County to continue issuing same-sex marriage licenses arrives during a week when other jurisdictions reevaluated their policies. On Thursday, the California Supreme Court told San Francisco to stop issuing the licenses. But on Tuesday in Oregon, the Benton County (home to Corvallis) commission voted 2-1 to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples starting Wednesday March 24.

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