Oregon's Gay Marriage Ban Struck Down, Effective Immediately

By Brett Snider, Esq. on May 19, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal judge struck down Oregon's gay marriage ban Monday, stating it was unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane issued a four-page order striking down Oregon's prohibition on gay marriage, which took effect immediately after it was filed. The Associated Press reports that couples lined up at the Multnomah County Building in Portland in anticipation of the ruling, waiting to officially tie the knot.

Does this mean gay Oregonians are free to marry?

Marriage Ban Violated Equal Protection, Judge Rules

This may sound familiar, but Oregon's gay marriage ban was found by Judge McShane to violate the equal protection rights of same-sex couples in the state. However, unlike many of the other federal cases striking down state marriage bans in the past few months, the court didn't apply Windsor to reach its decision.

Instead, Judge McShane gave his own legal analysis of Oregon's laws, finding that:

  • Oregon's marriage ban did not discriminate based on gender;
  • The ban did discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation;
  • A recent case granting higher scrutiny to sexual orientation is not yet binding;
  • Marriage is a civil contract; and
  • Protecting "stable families" and traditional marriage are not legitimate reasons for discriminating against same-sex couples.

Because McShane found no legitimate justification behind Oregon's gay marriage ban, he held the law violated the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause based on the lowest level of constitutional review. Thus the law was found to be unconstitutional, and Judge McShane ordered the law not to be enforced by any state office, agent, or employee.

2nd Rush to the Courthouse

This isn't the first time that Oregon has married same-sex couples. USA Today reports that thousands of same-sex couples were allowed to marry in Multnomah County in 2004 before a judge "halted the practice" and the Oregon Supreme Court invalidated the marriages.

A decade later, it seems that couples are once again rushing to the courthouse in Multnomah County. Unlike in other same-sex marriage rulings, it appears that Judge McShane's ruling has gone into effect immediately. Oregon's attorney general joins several other state officials who have refused to defend their states' same-sex marriage bans, making it much easier for these bans to be struck down.

In a rather poetic conclusion, Judge McShane offered some advice to opponents of gay marriage in Oregon: "Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other ... and rise."

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