October 16, 2013
Yesterday, two same-sex couples filed suit in a federal district court in Oregon arguing that the state’s constitutional ban on marriage equality violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
Oregon currently allows same-sex couples to enter into domestic partnerships which provide the rights, but not the designation, of marriage, but the state’s constitution was amended by voters in 2004 by a 57 to 43 percent margin to read, “It is the policy of Oregon, and its political subdivisions, that only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or legally recognized as a marriage.”
Both of the plaintiff couples in the new Oregon case, Geiger v. Kitzhaber, live in Mulnomah County. Deanna Geiger and Janine Nelson, who have been together for 31 years, sought and were denied a marriage license in late Septebmer; Robert Duehmig and William Griesar wed in Vancouver in December 2003. In addition to Governor John Kitzhaber, the suit’s named defendants are Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, State Registrar Jennifer Woodward and Mulnomah County Assessor Randy Waldruff.
The plaintiffs’ brief argues that the Oregon Family Fairness Act “created a separate and unequal institution of same-sex ‘domestic partnerships’” and lays out several ways in which domestic partnerships differ from marriages, such as:
- Individuals entering into a domestic partnership must be at least 18 while individuals seeking to marry can be 17, as long as they can provide parental consent.
- Marriages must be solemnized in front of two witnesses, while domestic partnerships require no solemnization.
- Individuals applying for a domestic partnership must consent to the jurisdiction of the Oregon courts for purposes of dissolving the partnership at a later date, while individuals seeking to marry are not required to do so.
“Exclusion from marriage by Oregon law,” the complaint alleges, “undermines the Plaintiffs’ abilities to achieve their life goals and dreams, threatens their mutual economic stability, and denies them equal dignity and status. Plaintiffs and their children are stigmatized and relegated to second-class citizens.”
The two couples’ court filing argues that Oregon’s marriage equality ban violates both their due process right “to choose who to marry and enter into officially sanctioned family relationships with” and their right to equal protection by “treat[ing] similarly situated people differently without legal justification by providing civil marriage to heterosexual couples but not to gay and lesbian couples.”
Geiger, Nelson, Duehmig and Griesar’s challenge was filed in the Eugene division of Oregon’s U.S. district court. According to KATU News, Attorney General Rosenblum’s office is aware of the lawsuit and has not yet determined how the attorney general will respond to the litigation.
A group called Oregon United for Marriage is currently collecting signatures for a 2014 ballot measure that would legalize marriage equality in the state. If successful, Oregon would become the first state in which voters both banned marriage equality through a ballot measure and later overturned their own ban through another ballot measure. In April, Basic Rights Oregon, an LGBT rights group, won a legal victory when Attorney General Rosenblum approved the language it had proposed for the ballot’s title: ”Amends Constitution: Recognizers marriage between couples of same gender; protects clergy/religious institutions’ refusal to perform marriages.”
A poll released in May found that 49 percent of Oregon voters favor repealing the marriage equality ban, while 42 percent oppose such a move and nine percent are undecided.
Read the couples’ complaint below, in full, via Equality Case Files. (H/t to Kathleen for the filing.)