Break out the bubbly. Today was a big day for marriage here in Oregon. At noon, Federal judge Michael McShane announced his ruling that the constitutional amendment that reads, “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,” which was passed by 57% of Oregon voters in 2004 violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and he enjoined the state from enforcing it, effective immediately. (Current poling suggests that the voters would now overturn the amendment with about the same margin that it passed just a decade ago.)
Same-sex couples, lined up in anticipation at court houses, immediately began obtaining marriage licenses, some paying an added $5.00 fee to waive the standard three-day waiting period. (I find the fact that the waiting period can be waived for a fee troubling — what’s the purpose of the waiting period, and why should a waiver be available for a cheap buy-out? But that’s going beyond the topic of this post.) In Multnomah County, where Portland is, 422 marriage licenses were issued today, compared with 68 on an average day. Some, including many couples who have been engaged for decades, exchanged vows and were legally married this afternoon.
Having announced on Friday that he would issue his ruling at noon today, much of the state was hitting the refresh buttons on their web browsers or, like me, tuned to their favorite radio news source and paying close attention at noon today.
I, like many others, was not surprised by the ruling. The elected state Attorney General had announced that she agreed with the petitioners and would not defend the amendment, and no one had standing to argue the case on behalf of the defendant (the state). An outside group (the so-called National Organization for Marriage) that sought late standing was denied it last week and this morning the 9th Circuit refused to hear their appeal. There being no one with standing interested in appeal, the ruling has, at least so far, not been stayed. However the Supreme Court of the U.S. could issue a stay if an appeal reached them. So we are a bit wary of the possibility that the ruling may yet prove to not to be final. There have been so many fits and starts with marriage equity that wariness is almost a given.
I wasn’t surprised by the ruling, but I was surprised at my emotional reaction to it. It is a significant victory for marriage equity and for loving same-sex couples who wish to gain the advantages of marriage. And that alone is worth being choked up, finding tears of joy, and celebration.
But even more, this ruling is personal. It enhances my own marriage and gives it ever more validity. I know there are many who would argue the opposite — that permitting same-sex couples to marry somehow devalues the institution and the tradition of marriage. That’s always felt like a non-sensical argument to me, and I have yet to figure just how it contributes to the ruination of the tradition. If every couple who wishes to declare their commitment to each other through vows and a covenant of marriage, not just those who are of opposite genders (and I note that the binary definition of gender is turning out to be quite slippery), then marriage has even more value. The meaning of marriage is expanded and deepened, not contracted, made shallow, or diminished. Those of us who are legally married can enjoy the knowledge that it is truly the expression of a covenant that is finally open to all couples in Oregon, not just a special recognition of the unions of part of the population. Same-sex couples no longer need elope to another state to obtain a license and be legally wed. Bravo!
If marriage is open to all loving couples, then it surely has a stronger basis and is more meaningful. A big part of my joy is in recognizing that my own marriage has been further sanctified by today’s ruling. I celebrate that along with the possibility that same-sex couples can now be legally wed in my home state.