The decision by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum makes Oregon the
third state in the past month to cease defense in federal court of
gay marriage bans, after Nevada and Virginia, as activists fight for
legalization across the United States.
"The law in this area is developing, and it is now clear that there
is no rational basis for Oregon to refuse to honor the commitments
made by same-sex couples in the same way it honors the commitments
of opposite-sex couples," Rosenblum, a Democrat, said in announcing
But the move will not result in immediate legalization of gay
marriage in the Democratic-dominated state, where a 2004
voter-approved amendment to the state constitution banned same-sex
In all, 17 states and the District of Columbia recognize gay
marriage in a trend that has gained momentum since the U.S. Supreme
Court ruled in June that legally married same-sex couples nationwide
are eligible for federal benefits. The court struck down part of the
1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Since mid-December, federal judges have ruled prohibitions on
same-sex marriage unconstitutional in Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia,
although the decisions have been stayed pending appeal.
The New Mexico Supreme Court has also ruled gay marriage legal in
that state, while in Colorado, nine couples filed suit in federal
court on Wednesday to overturn that state's gay marriage ban.
While Oregon law bans same-sex marriages in the state, it does allow
domestic partnerships and since October has recognized the marriages
of same-sex couples wed elsewhere.
Oregon gay marriage backers had planned to put a repeal of the state
ban before voters in November, but said they will hold the 160,000
signatures they have gathered pending the outcome of the court case.
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"Now that we have done the hard work of assuring a place on the
ballot and moving public opinion, we have the ability to wait for
the courts to do the right thing," Oregon United for Marriage
campaign manager Mike Marshall said in a statement.
Opponents of gay marriage said they were disappointed with the move,
with the president of the National Organization for Marriage saying
Rosenblum was "shamefully abandoning" her duty to defend an
amendment enacted by voters.
"She swore an oath of office that she would enforce all the laws,
not just those she personally agrees with," said Brian Brown, the
With so many challenges to state gay marriage bans gaining traction
in the lower courts, the U.S. Supreme Court may feel pressure to
settle the question of whether gay couples have a constitutional
right to wed, said Suzanne Goldberg, a Columbia Law School
Should the Supreme Court take up the issue again, it will face a
transformed political and legal terrain, Goldberg said.
"Whenever a case gets to the Supreme Court, the court will see a
nation in which gay couples are marrying in many states and where
some states no longer feel they can defend the exclusion of gay
couples from marriage," Goldberg said. "That is a very different
landscape from even a year ago."
(Reporting by Jonathan Kaminsky in Olympia, Washington;
Cynthia Johnston; editing by Amanda Kwan, Grant McCool and Andre Grenon)
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