A U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
judge on Wednesday ruled that Oregon's ban on gay marriage violates
the U.S. Constitution.
Voters in 2004 approved ballot Measure
36, which amended the Oregon Constitution to define marriage as a
heterosexual union. The push for an amendment was in response to
roughly 3,000 gay couples being allowed to marry in Multnomah County,
which includes Portland. Officials argued that no law existed
preventing such unions.
“Under rational basis review, Measure
36 does not pass constitutional muster,” Judge Harry Pregerson
wrote in his ruling. “Here, Oregon does not state any reason for
preventing same-sex couples from marrying.”
“While other possible objectives for
Measure 36 exist, I can see no objective that is rationally related
to banning same-sex marriages, other than the objective of
denigrating homosexual relationships. This objective amounts to a
desire to harm a minority and is therefore impermissible under
[Supreme Court cases] Romer and Cleburne. … Thus,
Measure 36 reveals itself to be 'wholly without any rational basis'
and is therefore unconstitutional.”
Pregerson also declared
unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the federal
statute which prevents federal agencies from recognizing the legal
marriages of gay couples.
The ruling comes in a case that was not
a direct challenge to the state's ban. Instead, married plaintiffs
Alison Clark and Anna Campbell alleged they were the victims of
sexual orientation discrimination stemming from a denial of benefits.
Clark's employer, the Administrative Office of the United States
Courts, said it denied her application for spousal benefits pursuant
to DOMA regulations.
“Clark and Campbell's validly
executed [Canadian] marriage should therefore be recognized as a
valid marriage in Oregon,” Pregerson
wrote. “I next consider whether, given Clark and Campbell's
valid marriage, it is constitutionally permissible for the federal
government to deny Clark's request for spousal FEHB benefits for
Clark. I hold that it is not.”
Marriage equality advocates in Oregon
are eyeing a 2014 referendum to repeal the amendment.
gay marriage push begins.)