Ore. court invalidates 'gay marriages'; Conn. embraces civil unions
HARTFORD, Conn. (BP)--The Oregon Supreme Court handed pro-family leaders in the state a clear victory April 14, ruling that marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples last year are invalid and refusing to take up the issue of civil unions.
The court's 7-0 decision came one day after the Connecticut House gave homosexual couples in that state a watered-down victory, passing a bill legalizing civil unions -- but not before amending it to define marriage as between one man and one woman. The bill passed the House, 85-63, and now goes back to the Senate, where an un-amended version passed earlier, 27-9. Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell has indicated she would sign it if it included the marriage language.
The Oregon case began in March 2004 when Multnomah County -- the state's most populous county -- began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But the state refused to recognize them and said they were invalid. Liberal and homosexual activist groups then sued the state, seeking recognition of the licenses, which numbered more than 3,000. They also requested that same-sex "marriage" be legalized statewide.
The Multnomah County controversy sparked a grassroots movement to pass a constitutional marriage amendment in Oregon banning "gay marriage." Such an amendment –- called "Measure 36" -- passed in November with 57 percent of the vote.
With the constitution now amended, lawyers for the same-sex couples changed their legal strategy and instead asked the Oregon Supreme Court to legalize Vermont-style civil unions -- unions that grant most of the legal benefits of marriage without using the word "marriage." They also argued that the constitutional amendment did not apply retroactively and that Multnomah County's licenses should be recognized.
But on both arguments, the high court disagreed. Writing for the court, Justice Michael Gillette said that even before the amendment passed, Oregon law already defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
"Oregon statutory law in existence before the effective date of Measure 36 ... limited, and continues to limit, the right to obtain marriage licenses to opposite-sex couples," he wrote. "... [M]arriage licenses issued to same-sex couples in Multnomah County before that date were issued without authority and were void at the time that they were issued, and we therefore need not consider the independent effect, if any, of Measure 36 on those marriage licenses."
The court refused to consider the request to legalize civil unions, saying the issue is "not properly before the court." The original lawsuit dealt only with "gay marriage."
Homosexual and liberal activists now may file a new lawsuit seeking civil unions. The state legislature also is considering such a bill.
The move by the Connecticut House upset people on both sides of the debate. Homosexuals were unhappy because of the marriage provision. Social conservatives have opposed the bill from the start, saying civil unions are de facto "gay marriages."
"It's still same-sex marriage in everything but name," Brian Brown, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, said, according to United Press International.
Homosexual activists were disappointed.
"From my perspective, they're giving with one hand and taking with the other," Mary Bonauto, a Boston lawyer who successfully sued to have "gay marriage" legalized in Massachusetts, said, according to the Associated Press.
"In the end, they have completely accepted and put into law the second-class status of gay and lesbian families in Connecticut," Bonauto added. "That is a very bitter pill to swallow."
Supporters of the House-passed bill said the marriage language would make a court less likely to legalize same-sex "marriage." Such a lawsuit is pending in Connecticut.
But even if the bill passes the Senate and is signed into law by the governor, it would be vulnerable to a ruling by a state court. Both California and Washington state have seen judges strike down similar laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
Constitutional marriage amendments have been shown to provide the only lasting protection against ruling by state judges. So far, 18 states have adopted them.
Connecticut state Rep. T.R. Rowe, a Republican, criticized the bill.
"This is really a radical redefinition of what marriage is," he said, according to the Bristol Press. "We’re going to open up marriage to homosexuals but we’ll give political cover to lawmakers."
For more information about the national debate over same-sex "marriage," visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage