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Tuesday, March 02, 2004  

Law: Oregon gays can marry . . . for now

Well, it has happened here. Today, the office of the chairperson of our county government, Diane Linn, announced that, starting tomorrow, homosexual residents will be issued marriage licenses under the same criteria as heterosexuals. The controversy that occurred in San Francisco will not erupt here because the applicable Oregon statutes make no reference to gender. However, despite its reputation for liberal voters (we still elect Democrats) there has been a strong anti-gay movement in the Pacific Northwest for years. A recent opinion poll says the population is nearly evenly split, 47 to 46 percent, for and against gay marriage.

KATU-TV has some details.

The Multnomah County Clerk's office plans to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples starting tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. at their office located at 501 S.E. Hawthorne.

. . .Oregon's marriage law states that marriage is a civil contract entered between males who are at least 17 years old and females who are at least 17 years old.

The law does not specify whether the marriage has to be between a man and a woman.

Hundreds of couples in Oregon are expected to take advantage of the county's plan to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

So many are expected to show up that the Multnomah County Sheriff's Department plans on having extra deputies out tomorrow to provide security at the clerk's office.

Ten minutes away from Portland, the law is different. Washington State specifies that marriage must be between a man and a woman.

KGW-TV sheds some light on how the change came about.

No Multnomah County commissioners were available to comment on the decision but the board issued a short statement on Tuesday night saying their legal counsel supports the controversial move.

“Based on a legal opinion released (Tuesday) by the county attorney, a majority of the (Multnomah) Board of County Commissioners supports a policy change to allow the county to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” the statement said.

The county was planning a news conference on Wednesday morning at Multnomah County headquarters at 501 SE Hawthorne Blvd. in Portland. Licenses will also be issued from the same building.

Opponents to gay marriage have already geared up to challenge the practice.

Oregon was already headed towards a heated debate on the definition of marriage.

Gay marriage opponents filed four versions of a proposed initiative that would prevent Oregon from recognizing gay marriages performed in another state.

The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled last month that gay marriage must be allowed under the state constitution. States typically recognize marriages performed in other states, but 38 states since 1996 have approved laws and constitutional amendments that seek to prevent recognition of same-sex marriages from other states.

Although four initiatives were filed with the state Elections Division, it is likely that proponents will seek to put only one on the ballot. Initiative proponents often file different versions of the same initiative, hoping to get the most favorable language in the ballot title.

If supporters gather enough signatures, the measure would appear on the November ballot.

If the controversy continues, it is likely to be resolved by the Supreme Court of Oregon. A decision explicitly affirming the right of gays to marry would be binding absent a contrary federal constitutional amendment or United States Supreme Court ruling.

6:30 PM