Good morning. As many Oregonians are aware, four couples have brought suit against the state, asking a federal court to find that Oregon’s ban on marriage by couples of the same sex violates the right of equality enshrined in the United States Constitution. I am named as a defendant in the lawsuits, along with the Governor, and it falls on my office to appear on behalf of the state before the court and answer the couples’ claims.
Usually — though not always — my office defends the state in litigation. As Attorney General, I have sworn an oath to uphold our state’s constitution. The lawyers in my office have sworn the same oath. The oath we took also requires us to uphold the Constitution of the United States – which is the supreme law of our land. Of course, we all take these oaths very seriously.
So it is after much careful study and consideration that I stand before you today to announce that the Oregon Department of Justice will not defend the prohibition in our state's constitution against marriages between people of the same sex. A document called an “answer” filed with the court earlier this morning informed Judge McShane of our decision. Copies are available for you.
Because our office also represents the people of Oregon, a brief explanation is in order.
The Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives people the right to be treated equally by their government, unless there is a good reason for unequal treatment. That is, any time the government establishes different sets of rules or laws for different sets of people, there must at least be what the law calls a “rational basis” for those differences.
The law in this area is developing and it is now clear that there is no rational basis for Oregon to refuse to honor the commitments made by same-sex couples in the same way it honors the commitments of opposite-sex couples. Marriage is the way that loving couples become family to each other and to their extended families, and there is no good reason to exclude same-sex couples from marriage in Oregon, or from having their marriages recognized here.
Because we cannot identify a valid reason for the state to prevent the couples who have filed these lawsuits from marrying in Oregon, we find ourselves unable to stand before federal Judge McShane to defend the state’s prohibition against marriages between two men or two women.
We will be explaining our legal reasoning to Judge McShane as this case proceeds. Those of you who are interested will be more than welcome to review our pleadings as they are filed. Legal papers that are due by April will fully address our analysis and that of the other parties in the two cases that are now consolidated.
Kristina Edmunson, Department of Justice, Kristina.Edmunson@doj.state.or.us, 503-378-6002