Narrow Prop. 8 ruling keeps Oregon constitutional ban intact
Today’s historic same-sex marriage rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court are only a partial win for those hoping for marriage equality in Oregon.
The Court struck down a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Eliminating that provision will extend certain federal benefits to previously excluded same-sex couples in Oregon who were married elsewhere. The court also paved the way for legal same-sex marriage in California when it issued a narrow, technical ruling on that state’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage.
The rulings have no immediate impact on Oregon’s constitutional ban.
“Oregon joined with 13 other states in support of overturning the state constitutional bans,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said. “While I am disappointed we did not hit a home run today, the Supreme Court’s DOMA opinion reflects a new day for marriage equality in the United States. Oregon may not be officially at the party yet, but it is just a matter of time until there is full recognition of all loving couples’ right to marry in Oregon.”
The Court considered the constitutionality of DOMA in the case of United States v. Windsor. Edie Windsor was required to pay over $300,000 in federal estate taxes after the death of her partner that she would not have had to pay if she were in an opposite-sex relationship.
The Supreme Court agreed with the lower court ruling that DOMA’s failure to recognize the marriage of Windsor and her partner violated the Equal Protection Clause of the federal constitution.
The DOMA ruling is good news for same-sex couples married elsewhere but living in Oregon. Because of DOMA, lawfully married same-sex couples were excluded from more than a thousand federal benefits otherwise provided to married couples.
Because Oregon’s constitution prohibits same-sex marriage, the result in this case has limited impact in Oregon. However, same-sex Oregon couples who are legally married in another jurisdiction must be treated as married for purposes of many of the federal benefits and obligations previously denied to them because of DOMA’s restrictions.
In the second case, the Court did not address the merits of a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, a voter initiative that placed a ban on same-sex marriage in California’s constitution.
Following the enactment of the ban, several same-sex couples challenged it and won in both the trial court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The California Governor and Attorney General refused to participate in the appeal or to defend the constitutional provision. Instead, the provision was defended by a group who had placed Proposition 8 on the ballot.
The Supreme Court today ruled that those individuals did not have “standing” (the legal right) to challenge the rulings from the lower courts. As a result, the trial court ruling overturning Proposition 8 stands and same-sex marriage in California will be legal barring further litigation.
Oregon’s constitutional ban will remain in effect unless it is successfully challenged in court or is amended by the voters.
Jeff Manning, Department of Justice, firstname.lastname@example.org, 503-378-6002