On Monday, May 19th, the long-awaited decision on marriage equality in Oregon finally came—and I am so excited to say that we won! In an eloquent and powerful ruling from Judge Michael McShane, the ban excluding LGBTQ couples from marrying was determined unconstitutional. LGBTQ couples were allowed to get married, effective immediately.
And get married we did. On Monday alone, 181 LGBTQ couples were married throughout Oregon. In Portland, Oregon United for Marriage quickly put together an event where over 70 couples could get married in a celebratory space, with support from local businesses who donated a ballroom, cakes, flowers, and, in true Portland fashion, pedicab service and a marching band.
As quickly as it all happened on Monday, we know that this victory was the outcome of a long, hard battle fought across the state. Starting last July, we thought the only path to marriage equality would be through the ballot box. Oregon United for Marriage formed a coalition made up of 872 community organizations, businesses, faith leaders and communities, elected officials, and communities of color partners. I’m proud to say, Pride Foundation was one of the original coalition members.
The contingent of dedicated organizations, community partners, and volunteers worked tirelessly to collect over 160,000 signatures from Oregon voters to qualify a measure for the ballot to remove the constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman. During this process, conversations with community members clearly had an impact. Thanks to these efforts, support for the freedom to marry rose to a record-breaking 58% in Oregon.
But once the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act, it opened up a path to win the freedom to marry in the courts instead of at the ballot. Four couples filed lawsuits to overturn Oregon’s ban on gay marriage. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum called the ban on marriage equality ‘indefensible’ and stated that she will not defend it, leaving nobody to argue in its favor.
A series of hearings led to Judge McShane’s historic decision that gave LGBTQ couples the freedom to marry. The opinion he handed down with his decision was highly personal and moving, and he concluded with these words:
My decision will not be the final word on this subject, but on the issue of marriage I am struck more by our similarities than our differences. I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families. Families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure. With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community.
Where will this all lead? I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries. To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this; Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather let us look to each other…and rise.” Judge Michael McShane, opinion.
This decision is not only historic, it’s also lasting. Since we have won the freedom to marry, we will no longer have to pursue the ballot measure. The impact of the coalition work that came out of this campaign will also have lasting effects. The relationships formed will enable organizations and community leaders to continue fighting for the lived equality of every LGBTQ Oregonian.