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Posts for May, 2014

Federal Judge Strikes Down Oregon’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Jim Burroway

May 19th, 2014

Where will this all lead? I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries. To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other … and rise.

– Federal District Judge Michael McShane, in today’s ruling striking down Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage.

As of noon today Pacific Time, Oregon has become the eighteenth state, in addition the the District of Columbia, to provide marriage equality for same-sex couples. With this ruling 39.5% of the total U.S. population lives in marriage equality states.

Judge McShane’s ruling follows much of the same logic we’ve seen in twelve other federal court decisions over the past year: “Because Oregon’s marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest, the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” McShane declined follow the Ninth District Court Appeals decision to apply heightened scrutiny where sexual orientation is concerned, saying “That is unnecessary here, as the state’s marriage laws cannot withstand even the most relaxed level of scrutiny.”

His order is effective immediately.

Unlike the other marriage cases before federal courts, there as no one in Oregon to defend the state’s marriage ban. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced last February that she would not defend the marriage ban, as did attorneys for Multnomah County, who were named as a defendant in the lawsuit. the National Organization for Marriage sought to intervene in the lawsuit, but Judge McShane rejected the organization’s request last week, saying that “The attorney general is answerable to voters. NOM is not.”

With no one defending Oregon’s marraige ban, it’s hard to find anything new in Judge McShane’s decision that hasn’t already been covered before. In fact, its a rather odd read. Because there were no arguments put forth by defendants in defending the ban, McShane’s attempt to argue against such arguments here are rather hypothetical and not based on the court record. And since state and county officials have already said that they have no plans to appeal the decision, McShane’s ruling will remain strictly an Oregon matter, and will likely have little bearing on case law as the other cases move their way through the appeals process. So I guess one can argue that the Oregon decision is relatively unimportant in the greater scheme of things, I have a feeling that many thousands of same-sex couples in Oregon today would be justified in strongly disagreeing with that.

No No NOM

Timothy Kincaid

May 14th, 2014

The National Organization for Marriage’s delaying tactic seeking to intervene in the marriage ban trial in Oregon has been slapped down. (Oregon Live)

After a nearly hourlong hearing, McShane ruled that the National Organization for Marriage was unreasonably late in filing its request to intervene. He also said that the group couldn’t simply seek to intervene in the place of Rosenblum to defend the law. “The attorney general is answerable to voters,” the judge said. “NOM is not.”

In addition, McShane said the Washington, D.C.-based group didn’t make its case that it should be allowed to intervene on behalf of three anonymous Oregon members of NOM: a county clerk who issues marriage licenses, a wedding provider and a voter who supported the 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

McShane said he understood the group’s concerns that its members might face harassment if they were named in the case. But he said Eastman’s group made no attempt to provide confidential information to the judge that would allow him to assess any harm to their members if gays and lesbians are allowed to marry in Oregon.

NOM is appealing.

However, at this point it seems likely that Judge McShane will simply rule on the matter and not wait for NOM to be told by every court in the land that they don’t have standing to represent imaginary people.

If he rules quickly enough, the organizers of the petition to bring the ban back to the voters will stop their campaign.

NOM wants to defend Oregon’s marriage ban

Timothy Kincaid

April 21st, 2014

It has finally come to the attention of the National Organization for Marriage (theirs, not yours) that no one is defending the anti-gay marriage ban in Oregon (maybe they read Box Turtle Bulletin).

And so, two days before the hearing begins, NOM has decided that they will step in and fill the void. (NOMBlog)

NOM’s lead legal counsel — its chairman John Eastman — will tell the federal court in the filing today that NOM’s members in Oregon include a county clerk who must perform marriages and certify them, professionals in the wedding industry, and voters who cannot defend their interests in upholding the law themselves due to legitimate fear of reprisal.

“It is precisely for this reason that federal law has a strong premise that organizations like NOM should be able to intervene to defend the interests of their members who cannot adequately defend those interests themselves,” said John Eastman, NOM’s Chairman and Director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence at The Claremont Institute.

If our motion to intervene is granted, we intend to fully and aggressively defend the state constitutional amendment.

Now I suppose it is possible that Eastman missed that tiny little obscure Proposition 8 case in which the Supreme Court said that the organization that wrote the proposition, campaigned for it, and got it passed did not have standing to defend the state law. Or perhaps he thinks that anonymous members and county clerks in the state give NOM standing.

And wouldn’t it be funny as all hell seeing Eastman make a fool of himself and his organization and having his rather prodigious posterior handed to him on a platter.

But no, it’s likelier that Eastman is just being a blowhard and won’t even turn in a motion. He probably just wanted some way to say the following without looking like a completely bigoted purveyor of bullpoopery.

Eastman also said that news reports over the weekend that Judge Michael McShane is in a long-term relationship with another man and that the two are raising a child together raise serious ethical questions about whether the judge should continue to hear the case.

“These recent news reports suggest that Judge McShane is in the same position as the two gay men challenging the marriage amendment, raising troubling questions about his impartiality,” Eastman said.

He knows that the courts have already ruled that gay judges ruling on matters that impact gay people are not presumed to be partial. It’s just an appeal to the baser nature of NOM’s supporters.

Oregon’s lopsided marriage hearing

Timothy Kincaid

April 18th, 2014

There is never a foregone conclusion when it comes to court cases, but if there were it would be the case on Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage.

In 2004, Oregonians voted to prohibit the legal recognition of marriage to one man and one woman. In October of 2013, two separate lawsuits were filed challenging the constitutionality of that ban, and the consolidated case will be heard on April 23 before U.S. District Judge Michael McShane.

But Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum will not be defending the ban. She believes it to be an unconstitutional violation of civil rights. Instead she filed a brief stating that, “This case presents that rare case in which there simply is no legal argument to be made in support of a state law.”

Nor will the Governor be defending the ban. Nor any other state officer. Nor any intervenor. In fact, no one at all will be there to argue on the law’s defense.

This does make it difficult for a judge to rule in the law’s favor. Without some brief to quote or some argument to accept, a justice is limited to relying on outside or third party argument, such as an amicus brief.

And plenty of amicus briefs have been filed. For example Nike and Intel and Kaiser and a bunch of other businesses filed a brief saying that the ban was bad for business. And gay groups filed briefs saying that the ban was unconstitutional. But those won’t be much use to a judge looking for a legal argument for keeping the ban. (Oregonlive.com)

Opponents of gay marriage have stayed away from McShane’s court — declining, for example, to file any “friend of the court” briefs aimed at influencing his thinking. Some say there’s little reason to get involved since they don’t have standing to appeal.

However, I suppose, were a justice sufficiently driven by his own anti-gay animus he might create out of whole cloth a reason why gay people are not entitled to equal status as citizens. Despite a growing list of courts that have found for equality, from the right and the left, we know that someone like Antonin Scalia would have little hesitation to impose his religious doctrine on top the Constitution and find within the catechism what he needs to oppose equality.

Except Judge McShane is not such a judge.

Unlike the five federal judges who have struck down laws prohibiting same-sex marriages in other states in recent months, McShane won’t have anyone in the courtroom defending Oregon’s constitutional ban when he holds oral arguments Wednesday.

And, unlike the other judges, McShane also happens to be one of just nine openly gay members of the federal judiciary, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

There is never a foregone conclusion when it comes to court cases. But if there were…