Oregon’s constitution still bears the ugly wound of discrimination thanks to a constitutional amendment that was approved by voters in 2004. But Michael Jordan, chief operating officer for the state’s Department of Administrative Services, has issued a directive to all state agencies advising them of a new policy in which the State of Oregon will now recognize same-sex marriages contracted elsewhere:
“Oregon agencies must recognize all out-of-state marriages for the purposes of administering state programs,” Jordan wrote. “That includes legal, same sex marriages performed in other states and countries.”
That means that gay couples who were legally married in other states are entitled to the same benefits in Oregon as any other married couple, said Matt Shelby, spokesman for the Department of Administrative Services. That would apply to everything from medical benefits to taxes to business licenses, he said.
A spokesman explained:
“The state of Oregon has typically recognized legal, out-of-state marriages,” said Department of Administrative Services spokesman Matt Shelby.
Because of that history, plus the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, Oregon could have been in legal trouble if it did not honor marriages legal in other states.
“Whether that’s a common-law marriage, whether that’s a same-sex marriage, whether that’s a more traditional man and woman marriage, the state of Oregon, state agencies, are going to treat you as a married couple,” he said.
Jordan’s directive came about after he sought a legal opinion from the state Attorney General’s office. Deputy Attorney General Mary Williams wrote in her opinion dated yesterday (PDF: 481KB/7 pages):
Oregon’s constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage would likely be construed as also prohibiting recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages. But such a construction would likely violate the federal constitution. …
We cannot identify any defensible state interest, much less a legitimate or compelling one, in refusing to recognize marriages performed between consenting, unrelated adults under the laws of another state — marriages that would be unquestionably accorded recognition if the spouses were of opposite sexes. Likewise, we cannot justify any legitimate (much less compelling) state interest in requiring that each marriage recognized in Oregon contain one partner of each sex; no benefit to Oregon from that limitation and no injury would result from recognizing the marriages.
And same-sex relationships are given legal recognition in Oregon, in the form of domestic-partnership registration. To defend a refusal to acknowledge marriages, the state would have to articulate a state interest in allowing partnerships but refusing to recognize marriages — and, again, we cannot point to any such interest that would pass constitutional muster at even the lowest possible level of scrutiny, rational basis review.
Because Oregon is constitutionally barred from providing same-sex marriage itself, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see an uptick in marriage applications in Vancouver, Washington, just across the Columbia River from Portland.
On Tuesday, two gay couples filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Eugene seeking to overturn the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Oregon United for Marriage is also collecting signatures to place a measure onto the November 2014 ballot asking voters to rescind the constitutional amendment.