FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE | April 14, 2004
NCLR Applauds Basic Rights Oregon, Same-Sex Couples, and ACLU for Launching Historic Marriage Equality Litigation
(San Francisco, CA, April 14, 2004) — The National Center for Lesbian Rights applauds Basic Rights Oregon and the nine same-sex couples who, represented by the ACLU, launched a historic lawsuit last year seeking the freedom to marry on behalf of all same-sex couples in Oregon. "These brave couples had the courage to stand up for freedom and equality," said Kate Kendell, Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who is lead counsel in a case seeking the freedom to marry on behalf of Equality California and same-sex couples in California. "These couples and the thousands of others who married in Multnomah County last year changed the national debate on this issue forever. No court ruling could ever take away the impact of the love and personal commitment shown by the thousands of couples who came forward to seek protection for their families."
The Oregon Supreme Court ruled today that the Multnomah County officials who issued approximately 3,000 marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004 did not have the authority to do so. The Court also held that the couples could not seek the freedom to marry under the state constitution because of Measure 36, which amended the Oregon Constitution to limit marriage to different-sex couples. According to the Court, "As the later-enacted (and more specific) constitutional provision, Measure 36 resolves any prospective claims that plaintiffs may have had under [the Oregon Constitution] to obtain marriage licenses."
The Court did not rule on whether denying same-sex couples all of the legal benefits of marriage is unconstitutional. After the Court's ruling, Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski called on the legislature to act immediately to meet this "great moral challenge" by enacting the civil union law proposed by a bipartisan group of senators and supported by a coalition led by Basic Rights Oregon.
Last year, the California Supreme Court issued a similar decision invalidating the approximately 4,000 marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples by San Francisco in February, 2004. In contrast to today's ruling by the Oregon Supreme Court, however, the California Supreme Court did not decide whether California's marriage statutes are unconstitutional. In March, 2004, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, along with Lambda Legal and the ACLU, filed a lawsuit seeking the freedom to marry on behalf of Equality California and twelve same-sex couples. The City and County of San Francisco filed a similar lawsuit. On March 14, 2005, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer ruled that excluding same-sex couples from marriage unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of gender and violates the fundamental right to marry. That ruling will now be appealed to the California Court of Appeal. In contrast to Oregon, California does not have a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to different-sex couples.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.