The U.S. Supreme Court's long-awaited rulings on same-sex marriage moved the issue in the right direction. In Oregon, however, one ruling will have virtually no effect, while the impact of the other will be limited until voters or the courts make further changes.
That leaves it up to Oregonians to do the right thing and remove the barriers to gay marriage.
The ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry stopped short of declaring a constitutional right to marry someone of the same sex. The case arose from challenges to Proposition 8, the voter-passed initiative that placed a ban on gay marriage in California's constitution. A trial judge and the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Proposition 8 unconstitutional, and the measure's supporters appealed to the Supreme Court when the California governor and attorney general declined to defend the amendment.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the amendment's supporters lacked legal standing to challenge the lower court rulings. That likely means same-sex marriages will become once more legal in California, but it leaves the situation in other states unchanged.
In Oregon, that means Measure 36, the voter-passed constitutional amendment that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, remains in effect until the voters repeal it or the courts strike it down.
The other ruling announced Wednesday, in United States v. Windsor, struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Edie Windsor sued when she was required to pay more than $300,000 in federal estate taxes after her longtime partner died — taxes she would not have had to pay had federal law recognized their marriage.
The court ruled that the portion of DOMA that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples violated the constitution. In Oregon, that means same-sex couples living here who were legally married elsewhere can be treated as married for the purpose of receiving many federal benefits. Other couples will have to wait for the courts or the voters to remove the constitutional amendment that outlawed gay marriage.
Public opinion has been shifting rapidly in favor of recognizing same-sex marriage as people gradually accept that same-sex unions are no threat to heterosexual marriages; that they strengthen, not weaken the social fabric; and that denying same-sex couples the right to formalize their commitment to each other is fundamentally unfair and un-American.
We are confident Oregonians will honor this state's tradition of celebrating individual liberty and do so sooner, not later.