Same-sex marriage in Oregon

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Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in Oregon since May 19, 2014, when a U.S. Federal District Court judge ruled in Geiger v. Kitzhaber that Oregon's 2004 state constitutional amendment banning such marriages discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Federal Constitution. A campaign that was then under way to win voter approval of a constitutional amendment legalizing same-sex marriage was suspended following the decision. In July 2015, the Governor of Oregon signed into law a bill passed by the state Legislature to codify gender-neutral marriage in various Oregon statutes. The law change went into effect on January 1, 2016.[1][2]

Oregon began recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions in October 2013. Domestic partnerships have been allowed since 2008.

In March and April 2004, Multnomah County issued marriages licenses to more than 3,000 same-sex couples until ordered by a state judge to stop doing so. In November, Oregon voters approved an amendment to the State Constitution that made it state policy to recognize only marriages "between one man and one woman". The validity of the licenses issued the previous spring was disputed, and the Oregon Supreme Court ruled in April 2005 that the newly adopted constitutional amendment had invalidated them.

Domestic partnerships[edit]

Since February 2008, same-sex couples have had access to domestic partnerships, which guarantee almost all of the rights of marriage.


Marriage licenses issued[edit]

On March 3, 2004, Multnomah County began issuing licenses to same-sex couples after its attorney issued a legal opinion that such marriages are lawful.[3][4][5] On that day, Multnomah County issued 422 marriage licenses, compared to the 68 it issues on an average day. Local businesses reported an increase in the sales of flowers and other marriage-related services directly related to the beginning of same-sex marriages. According to the 2000 US Census, 3,242 same-sex couples were living in the county.[6] Neighboring Washington and Clackamas counties announced that they were studying Multnomah County's legal opinion, but did not plan to immediately follow suit.

At a hearing on March 9, 2004, after the county had issued approximately 1,700 marriage licenses to same-sex couples, County Circuit Judge Dale Koch refused to issue an injunction to stop the county from continuing the process.[7] A later study by The Oregonian showed that the first week's 2,026 people from Multnomah County had received such licenses, while about 900 others came from other locations in Oregon, about 490 from the state of Washington, and 30 from other states.[8]

On March 10, 2004, the State Legislature's Legislative Counsel, Greg Chaimov, issued an opinion that "state law requires a county clerk to license the marriage of a same-sex couple."[9] The office of Attorney General Hardy Myers issued an opinion March 12, 2004, after reviewing it with the Governor, that concluded that Oregon law prohibits county clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples; that the Oregon Supreme Court would likely find denying such licenses violates Article I, Section 20 of the Oregon Constitution; but that current state practices should not change in anticipation of such a ruling. It also said that the Attorney General's office lacked the authority to order Multnomah County to cease issuing licenses for same-sex marriages.[10]

On March 15, 2004, Multnomah County commissioners announced that they would continue to issue licenses to same-sex couples.[11] On March 16, 2004, following public hearings, Benton County commissioners voted 2–1 to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on March 24, 2004, but they reversed their decision on March 22 after receiving two letters from the Attorney General and a phone call threatening the arrest of the county clerk, and decided to issue no marriage license at all pending a decision by the Multnomah County Court.[12]

With the consent of the state, three same-sex couples sued the state of Oregon in Multnomah County Court, including Mary Li and Rebecca Kennedy, the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license from Multnomah County. At a hearing before Judge Frank Bearden on April 16, 2004, in Li and Kennedy v. State of Oregon, the American Civil Liberties Union and Basic Rights Oregon represented the plaintiffs and the Oregon Department of Justice and the Defense of Marriage Coalition defended the state's position.[13] On April 20, 2004, Bearden ordered the county to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses, and ordered the state to recognize the 3,022 same-sex marriage licenses already issued. The Oregon state registrar had been holding the completed licenses pending a court decision as to their validity, rather than entering them into the state's records system. Bearden also found that the Oregon Constitution would likely allow some form of marriage rights to same-sex couples, and directed the Legislature to act on the issue within 90 days of the start of its next session. He ruled that if the Legislature failed to address the issue within that time, he would allow Multnomah County to resume issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It was understood that both parties would appeal the decision.

In July 2004, the Court of Appeals lifted the temporary ban blocking the registration of the marriage licenses issued by Multnomah County. The state announcing that processing would take a week and began doing so within hours of the court's action.[14]

2004 ballot initiative[edit]

On May 21, 2004, the Defense of Marriage Coalition received approval for the language of a proposed initiative to prohibit same-sex marriage. They began circulating petitions to obtain the 100,840 valid signatures needed by July 2 to place the initiative on the November ballot. On November 2, 2004, voters approved by a margin of 57% to 43% Ballot Measure 36, a constitutional amendment defining the marriage of a man and a woman as the only one recognized by the state. The Defense of Marriage Coalition said that opponents of Measure 36 outspent their group more than 2 to 1.[15]

The (now defunct) amendment 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."[16]

Oregon Supreme Court review[edit]

About 200 people staged a pro-LGBT protest in downtown Portland to advocate for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

On December 15, 2004, the Oregon Supreme Court heard arguments in the appeal of Li and Kennedy v. State of Oregon. Oregon argued that Multnomah County lacked the authority to issue same-sex marriage licenses and that Ballot Measure 36 was retroactive, making the issue of those licenses moot. The Defense of Marriage Coalition argued that Measure 36 was not retroactive, there had been no constitutional violation of the rights of same-sex couples, and Multnomah County did not have the authority to issue same-sex marriage licenses even to remedy a constitutional violation. The ACLU argued that Measure 36 was not retroactive, that the rights of same-sex couples under the Equal Privileges and Immunities clause of the Oregon Constitution had been violated, and that counties are required to remedy perceived constitutional violations.

On April 14, 2005, the Oregon State Supreme Court decided Li and Kennedy v. State of Oregon, ruling that Multnomah County lacked the authority to remedy a perceived violation of the Oregon Constitution and that all marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples were void when issued. The court noted that the Oregon Constitution had since been amended to limit marriage to opposite-sex couples and it therefore declined to rule as to whether or not same-sex couples had any rights under the Equal Privileges and Immunities clause of the Oregon Constitution.[17]


Recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages (2013)[edit]

On October 16, 2013, based on an opinion from the Oregon Department of Justice,[18] the state's Chief Operating Officer Michael Jordan announced that Oregon would begin recognizing same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions "for the purposes of administering state programs."[19]

Oregon Same-Sex Marriage Amendment (2013/14)[edit]

In February 2013, Basic Rights Oregon, a LGBT rights organization, formed the group Oregon United for Marriage to put an initiative on the ballot in November 2014 to provide for the legal recognition of same-sex marriages.[20] The initiative would replace the state's constitutional amendment restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples with the right of all persons to marry without respect to gender.[21] On July 26, 2013, the petition campaign to get the required signatures was launched.[22][23] By early December 2013, the 116,284 minimum required signatures had been reached, but signature collection continued.[24][25] The campaign was endorsed by the Democratic Party of Oregon[26] and various major businesses.[27][28]

The campaign gathered more than 160,000 signatures, enough to place its proposal, the Oregon Same-Sex Marriage Amendment, on the November 4, 2014, statewide ballot. Following the May 2014 U.S district court decision in Geiger v. Kitzhaber (see below), striking down Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage, the group announced that it was "confident that the freedom to marry is secure in Oregon" and that it would not proceed with the measure.[29][30]

Federal lawsuit[edit]

On October 15, 2013, two couples, a pair of unmarried lesbians and two men already married in Canada, filed a lawsuit, Geiger v. Kitzhaber, in U.S. district court in Eugene, Oregon, challenging the Oregon Constitution's ban on same-sex marriage.[31] It made Oregon the 20th state to have a federal lawsuit challenging its ban on same-sex marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor (2013) invalidated part of the Defense of Marriage Act.[32] Two more couples and the Basic Rights Education Fund filed another same-sex marriage case on December 19, 2013, with this latter case captioned Rummell and West v. Kitzhaber.

On January 22, 2014, Judge Michael McShane consolidated the two lawsuits and scheduled oral arguments for April 23.[33] On February 20, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum told the court that she believed "that performing same-sex marriages in Oregon would have no adverse effect on existing marriages, and that sexual orientation does not determine an individual's capacity to establish a loving and enduring relationship." She found it impossible to defend the state's ban "under any standard of review" and her office would no longer defend the ban in court. The plaintiffs in both Geiger and Rummell filed motions asking for summary judgment; this procedure used in cases where there are no material issues of fact requiring a trial, and a fast resolution is desired.[34]

The court heard oral argument on motions for summary judgment in the consolidated lawsuit on April 23, 2014. While all parties present supported same-sex couples' right to marry, Judge McShane questioned whether Oregon voters should get another say on the issue, since they approved the amendment defining marriage; and whether to stay the ruling and await guidance from same-sex marriage cases pending in the U.S. courts of appeal, or to implement the ruling immediately. The court scheduled another oral argument session for May 14, where the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), an organization that opposes same-sex marriage, tried to qualify for intervention in the case.[35][36] On May 14, Judge McShane rejected NOM's attempt to intervene in the case, ruling that the group was unreasonably late in filing its request to intervene and that it failed to convincingly demonstrate that it should be allowed to intervene on behalf of three anonymous Oregon-based members of NOM.[37]


Standing outside the Multnomah County office, marriage plaintiffs Deanna Geiger and Janine Nelson hear the news that they've won their case for same-sex marriage in Oregon.

At noon on May 19, 2014, Judge McShane issued his opinion, ruling that the state's constitutional ban was unconstitutional.[38] He wrote:[39]

Because Oregon's marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest, the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Minutes after the decision was announced at noon, officials in at least four counties were fulfilling requests for marriage licenses from same-sex couples. The first to wed in Multnomah County were two of the plaintiffs, Deanna Geiger and Janine Nelson.[39] That county issued 96 licenses the first day, and judges officiated at wedding ceremonies in a Portland ballroom.[40][41][42]

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) immediately asked the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to issue an emergency stay of McShane's ruling, which that court denied on grounds of lack of standing.[43] NOM then filed a request on May 27 with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy seeking to block Judge McShane's order.[44] Justice Kennedy referred the matter to the entire Supreme Court,[45] which on June 4 rejected NOM's request.[46][47]


Governor Kate Brown signed legislation codifying same-sex marriage in Oregon's marriage laws in 2015 and 2016.

In July 2015, several amendments to marriage and spousal laws on Oregon's statutes were passed by the state Legislature and signed into law by the state Governor. The reforms make all mentions to Oregon's marriage and spousal gender-neutral and came into effect on January 1, 2016.[48]

In February 2016, the Legislature passed a bill legally defining marriage as a union between two individuals. It passed the House in a 43-13 vote and the Senate in an 18-11 vote.[49] On March 14, 2016, Governor Kate Brown signed the bill and it took effect immediately.[50][51] The definition of marriage in the state of Oregon is now the following:[51]

Marriage means a marital relationship between two individuals, legally recognized under the laws of this state.

Economic impact[edit]

With same-sex couples allowed to marry in Oregon, an April 2014 study by UCLA's Williams Institute found that allowing marriage for same-sex couples would add $47.3 million to Oregon's economy during the first three years.[52][53] The study estimated allowing marriages for same-sex couples would also add 468 new jobs to Oregon's economy.

Marriage statistics[edit]

Number of marriages in Oregon[54][55]
Year Marriages between women Marriages between men Same-sex marriages Heterosexual marriages % same-sex marriages
2014 (from May) 1,374 653 2,027 25,708 7.3%
2015 1,087 617 1,704 26,090 6.1%

By county, most same-sex marriages those two years were performed in Multnomah, Washington and Lane counties. No same-sex marriages were recorded in Gilliam, Harney, Lake, Sherman and Wheeler counties.

The state stopped recording marriages by the sex of the partners in 2016. As such, only data for 2014 and 2015 exists.[56]

Public opinion[edit]

A June 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that 48% of Oregon voters thought that marriage for same-sex couples should be legal, while 42% thought it should be illegal and 11% were not sure. A separate question on the same survey found that 76% of Oregon voters supported the legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 43% supporting same-sex marriage, 33% supporting civil unions but not marriage, 22% favoring no legal recognition and 1% not sure.[57]

A June 2012 Public Policy Polling survey found that 46% of Oregon voters thought that marriage for same-sex couples should be legal, while 45% thought it should be illegal and 9% were not sure. A separate question on the same survey found that 74% of Oregon voters supported the legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 44% supporting same-sex marriage, 30% supporting civil unions but not marriage, 23% favoring no legal recognition and 3% not sure.[58]

A December 2012 Public Policy Polling survey found that 54% of Oregon voters thought marriage for same-sex couples should be allowed, while 40% thought it should not be allowed. 5% were not sure.[59]

According to an April 2013 DHM Research poll, 49% of Oregon voters supported changing the Oregon Constitution to allow marriage for same-sex couples, 42% were opposed and 9% were undecided.[60][61]

A February 2014 poll released by Oregon United For Marriage showed that 55% of the state supported marriage for same-sex couples while 41% were opposed.[62]

According to a May 2014 DHM Research poll, 58% of Oregon voters supported changing the Oregon Constitution to allow marriage for same-sex couples, 36% were opposed and 6% were undecided.[63]

A May 2014 Public Policy Polling survey found that 54% of Oregon voters thought same-sex marriage should be allowed, while 40% thought it should not be allowed. 6% were not sure.[64]

According to the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), in 2015 and 2016, respectively, 62% and 65% of Oregon residents supported same-sex marriage.[65][66] By 2017 (according to the PRRI), support had increased to 67%, with 25% opposed and 8% undecided.[67]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ HB 2478 - Oregon 2015 Regular Session
  2. ^ House Bill 2478 (2015) - Oregon Legislature Bill Tracker
  3. ^ Multnomah County authorizes same-sex marriages starting Wednesday
  4. ^ "Gay Couples Marry As Portland Ore. Says 'I Do'". Archived from the original on March 9, 2006. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  5. ^ "Judge upholds ban: A Marion County judge rejects constitutional challenges to last year's Ballot Measure 36". The Oregonian. Retrieved February 3, 2008.
  6. ^ 2000 and 2010 Census Profile
  7. ^ Parker, Jim; Abe Estimada (March 8, 2004). "Multnomah Co. judge refuses to halt same-sex marriages". KGW TV. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved March 29, 2007.
  8. ^ Same-sex Marriage Statistics 2004
  9. ^ Gregory A. Chaimov, Legislative Counsel (March 8, 2004). "Same-Sex Marriage: letter to Senator Kate Brown (Senate Democratic Leader)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on September 27, 2011. Retrieved February 3, 2008.
  10. ^ Oregon Department of Justice: March 12, 2004, accessed November 1, 2012
  11. ^ Law, Steve (March 16, 2004). "Same-sex weddings continue; validity in doubt". Salem Statesman Journal. Archived from the original on January 25, 2006. Retrieved March 29, 2007.
  12. ^ [1] Archived September 8, 2012, at
  13. ^ [2]
  14. ^ Opinions Issued in 2004
  15. ^ Fortmeyer, John. "Christian voters' impact in Oregon still under review". Archived from the original on December 4, 2004. Retrieved March 17, 2007.
  16. ^ Wikisource:Oregon Constitution/Article XV
  17. ^ "Mary Li and Rebecca Kennedy et al. v. State of Oregon et al". Oregon Judicial Department. April 14, 2005. Archived from the original on September 29, 2011. Retrieved November 23, 2008.
  18. ^ "Oregon Department of Justice: Letter" (PDF). Oregon Live. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  19. ^ Damewood, Andrea (October 16, 2013). "Oregon To Recognize Marriages of Gay Couples Wed Out of State". Willamette Week. Archived from the original on February 24, 2014. Retrieved February 13, 2014.
  20. ^ "Backers of gay marriage will take their cause to Oregon ballot in 2014". Oregon Live. February 11, 2013.
  21. ^ "Oregon United for Marriage Turns in 2,000 Sponsorship Signatures on the Freedom to Marry and Religious Protection Initiative". Oregon United for Marriage. February 19, 2013. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  22. ^ "Oregon United Launches Petition Campaign to Put Marriage on the Ballot". Human Rights Campaign. July 24, 2013.
  23. ^ "Oregon Says I Do".
  24. ^ Zheng, Yuxing (August 30, 2013). "Marijuana legalization, same-sex marriage advocates say federal decisions strengthen 2014 Oregon ballot initiative efforts". Oregon Live. Retrieved September 30, 2013.
  25. ^ "Oregon Campaign For Gay Marriage Hits Signature Goal". On Top Magazine. December 8, 2013.
  26. ^ "Democratic Party of Oregon Endorses Marriage Equality Campaign". Democratic Party of Oregon. June 14, 2013.
  27. ^ "Intel, on pending Oregon ballot measure: We support marriage equality". Oregon Live. October 19, 2013.
  28. ^ Anna Staver (November 19, 2013). "Nike gives $280,000 to support same-sex marriage in Oregon". Statesman Journal.
  29. ^ Staver, Anna. "Oregon gay marriage campaign winds down". Statesman Journal. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  30. ^ "Oregon Same-Sex Marriage Amendment (2014)". Ballotpedia. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  31. ^ Erica Nochlin (October 15, 2013). "Lawsuit filed to overturn Oregon's same-sex marriage ban". KATU news.
  32. ^ James Nichols (October 16, 2013). "Portland Trailblazers Back Gay Marriage, Becoming First NBA Team To Do So". Huffington Post.
  33. ^ "Judge consolidates Oregon gay-marriage lawsuits". Washington Post. January 22, 2014. Retrieved January 23, 2014.
  34. ^ Johnson, Chris (February 20, 2014). "Oregon AG won't defend marriage ban in court". Washington Blade. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  35. ^ Mapes, Jeff (April 23, 2014). "Gay marriage: Judge Michael McShane provides little clue in how he will rule on Oregon case". The Oregonian. Retrieved April 23, 2014.
  36. ^ Mapes, Jeff (April 22, 2014). "Judge won't rule in Oregon gay marriage case until at least May 14 while he decides on intervenor". The Oregonian. Retrieved April 23, 2014.
  37. ^ Mapes, Jeff (May 14, 2014). "Gay marriage: Judge rejects attempt to intervene; ruling to overturn Oregon ban may follow".
  38. ^ Hubbard, Saul (May 19, 2014). "Oregon's gay marriage ban struck down". Archived from the original on January 12, 2016.
  39. ^ a b Mapes, Jeff (May 19, 2014). "Oregon gay marriage ban struck down by federal judge; same-sex marriages begin". The Oregonian. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  40. ^ Mears, Bill (May 19, 2014). "Federal judge strikes down Oregon's same-sex marriage ban". CNN News. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  41. ^ Carson, Teresa (May 19, 2014). "Same-sex couples wed in Oregon after gay marriage ban lifted". Reuters. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  42. ^ Chokshi, Niraj (May 20, 2014). "Gallery: Gay couples wed after Oregon marriage ban struck down". Washington Post. Retrieved August 28, 2014.
  43. ^ Mapes, Jeff (May 19, 2014). "Ninth Circuit strikes down National Organization's request to halt judge's decision".
  44. ^ Associated Press (May 27, 2014). "Group seeks SCOTUS stay of Oregon gay marriage decision".
  45. ^ "Order List of the United States Supreme Court" (PDF). Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved June 4, 2014.
  46. ^ "Supreme Court Rebuffs Call to End Same-Sex Marriages in Oregon". New York Times. Retrieved June 4, 2014.
  47. ^ "Nat'l Organization for Marriage v. Geiger, Deanna L., et al" (PDF). Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved June 5, 2014.
  48. ^ Bullard Law: 2015 Oregon Legislative Session Wrap-Up
  49. ^ "Legislature reinforces same-sex marriage". Statesman Journal. February 25, 2016.
  50. ^ 2016 Regular Session HB 4127
  51. ^ a b House Bill 4127
  52. ^ "Study estimates same-sex marriage would boost Oregon economy by $47 million over 3 years". Statesman Journal. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  53. ^ Fitzgerald, E.G. "Estimating the Economic Boost of Marriage for Same-Sex Couples in Oregon" (PDF). UCLA. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
  54. ^ Sex by county of issuance, Oregon marriages 2014 final
  55. ^ Sex by county of issuance, Oregon marriages 2015 final
  56. ^ Marriages by Sex and County of Issuance
  57. ^ Public Policy Polling: Oregon in favor of legal gay marriage, Kitzhaber Solid
  58. ^ Public Policy Polling: Oregon divided on gay marriage
  59. ^ "Kitzhaber, Merkley lead potential foes" (PDF). 12/7/2012. Public Policy Polling.
  60. ^ DHM Research survey
  61. ^ Poll: Oregon voters back PERS restructuring; support dropping for expansion of gun background checks
  62. ^ "An incredible day for freedom to marry in Oregon". Oregon United For Marriage. Retrieved February 20, 2014.
  63. ^ Wilson, Reid (May 8, 2014). "Gay marriage initiative leads by wide margin in Oregon". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 8, 2014.
  64. ^ "Kitzhaber, Merkley hold double-digit leads" (PDF). Public Policy Polling. May 29, 2014. Retrieved November 6, 2015.
  65. ^ PRRI: American Values Atlas 2015
  66. ^ PRRI: American Values Atlas 2016
  67. ^ Public opinion on same-sex marriage by state: Oregon

External links[edit]