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Marriage-threatening ruling goes to Ore. Supreme Court


SALEM, Ore. (BP)–A court case that would require all Oregon state and local governments to grant spousal benefits to same-sex couples has been appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court.
The court’s ruling will have national implications: Such a law would weaken the status of marriage as a unique class while at the same time providing “special class” status to people who choose a homosexual lifestyle.
The double threat to American society demanded involvement, said Jordan Lorence, a constitutional law attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund in northern Virginia.
Lorence organized a group of Christian lawyers in Oregon who filed an appeal Jan. 14 challenging the decision of a three-judge court of appeals Dec. 9. The court of appeals, in overturning a lower court decision, ruled that domestic partners of three lesbian employees at Oregon Health Sciences University were entitled to the same benefits given to the spouses of married employees. Not granting spousal benefits violated the state’s anti-discrimination laws and the state constitution’s equivalent of the 14th amendment “Equal Protection” clause, the appeals court ruled.
The group organized by Lorence filed an appeal of the ruling with the state’s supreme court on the last day it would have been possible to do so.
“To sit and do nothing to me would be irresponsible,” Lorence said. “Citizens of the state have legal standing to challenge decisions where tax money will be spent, or in cases of significant public interest. I think this case definitely fits those bills.”
The claim of “discrimination” in connection with homosexual rights has been heard and rejected by nine of the nation’s federal appeals courts and four other state appellate courts, Lorence said.
The Oregon appeals court ruling in effect elevates homosexual people to the “special class” status until now only provided for heterosexual married couples, Lorence explained in a telephone interview. “To put this in perspective, I describe the same-sex marriage court cases in Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont as front-door attacks on marriage. This is more of a sneaky, under-the-radar approach. There are lots of legal relationships under the law but there is only one marital relationship. This argument that cohabiting couples are the same as legally married couples has been rejected everywhere in the United States but in the Oregon court of appeals.”
The ruling also would force all state and local governments to provide the same amount of spousal benefits to domestic partners that it provides for married couples, he added. These include health insurance, pension payouts and similar benefits. Denial of those benefits would violate the equal protection provisions of the state’s constitution in the same way that discrimination by gender, age, race or religion is prohibited, the appellate court ruled.
“This is a radical change from the last 200 years, during which American government bolstered the concept of marriage because society was strengthened and stabilized by marriage,” Lorence said.
Lowered taxation is just one method states use to support the concept of marriage: Married couples pay at a lower rate than do singles. Married people often receive workman’s or unemployment compensation at a higher rate than do singles. A widow can sue the drunk driver who killed her husband for the loss of his companionship, an option not open to even the closest of friends.
“What this [Oregon appeals] ruling said is that all these are unconstitutional if they only give the benefits to married people,” Lorence said. “In my opinion, this drags down marriage to the level of unmarried cohabitation.
“There are cities all over the country that have voted to extend domestic partner benefits but no court has forced somebody to pay domestic partner benefits on some claim that it’s discriminatory,” he continued. “That’s the radical shift this case represents.”
The Oregon Supreme Court is under no set timetable to review the case, but the law probably will not go into effect until the court either dismisses the appeal or decides to review the case, Lorence surmised.