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‘Mixed bag’: Ore. judge orders halt to county’s same-sex ‘marriages’

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An Oregon judge issued a mixed ruling on same-sex “marriage” April 20, ordering the state’s most populous county to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples but giving the legislature a time limit to address the situation.

A remedy, he said, could come either through same-sex “marriage” or Vermont-type civil unions.

The decision by Circuit Judge Frank L. Bearden against Multnomah County means that for the first time in more than two months, no locality in America is performing same-sex “marriages.” But that figures to change May 17, when Massachusetts is scheduled to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Portland sits in Multnomah County. Bearden’s decision likely will be appealed.

“What’s important is that we do have a clear order shutting down Multnomah County from issuing these defective marriage licenses in the renegade manner that they were doing it,” Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund, co-counsel in the case, told Baptist Press. “And that’s a very big deal, I think.”

The news came the same day that four pro-family groups filed a petition with the Massachusetts’ high court asking it to stay its pro-same-sex “marriage” decision until 2006, when voters may have a chance to vote on a state constitutional marriage amendment.

The ruling in Oregon came more than a month after Multnomah County began issuing the licenses to homosexual couples March 3. In February, San Francisco became the first to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, although the California Supreme Court has since halted the city’s actions.

Bearden’s decision came just four days after he heard oral arguments.

In a victory for supporters of same-sex “marriage,” Bearden ordered the state within 30 days to record the marriage licenses already issued — something it had refused to do. Multnomah County had issued approximately 3,000 licenses to same-sex couples.

But Bearden refused to let the issuing of licenses — which the state attorney general had said was illegal — continue.

“[A]n overall reading of the marriage statutes and the case law demonstrates that marriage in this state is intended solely to take place between a man and a woman,” Bearden wrote.

He gave the Oregon legislature 90 days after the start of the next regular or special session to address the issue. If it fails to do so, Multnomah County may begin again issuing the licenses, he said.

“It is for the legislature to address the issue of compliance with the Oregon Constitution,” he wrote.

Bearden disagreed with the state attorney general and the state governor, both of whom have said the Supreme Court likely would legalize same-sex “marriage.”

“[I]t is unclear how the Oregon Supreme Court would rule on this issue,” he wrote.

In his 16-page opinion Bearden referred to the decisions by the high courts in Massachusetts and Vermont. Massachusetts’ court ruled last year that same-sex couples must be allowed to “marry,” while Vermont’s court in 1999 gave its state legislature the option of legalizing either same-sex “marriage” or civil unions.

“The Vermont method of making a legal decision regarding the present issue and then, in effect, staying the decision until the Oregon Legislative Assembly … and the public have time for dialog and debate is the approach favored and therefore adopted by this court,” he wrote.

Lorence called the decision a “mixed bag.”

“But the ACLU definitely did not get what they wanted,” he said.

Pro-family groups in Oregon are beginning a petition drive, hoping to place a constitutional marriage amendment before voters this fall. They need 100,000 signatures by early July.

In a letter that accompanied the ruling, Bearden said the Oregon Supreme Court ultimately must decide the matter.

“[A] Supreme Court ruling is needed for legal finality and public debate and legislative action may be required to carry out the court’s mandate,” he wrote.

That statement drew criticism from Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

“Public policy decisions, especially those as far-reaching as the radical redefinition of marriage, are meant to be determined by the people and their elected representatives in the legislature, not judges,” Perkins said in a statement.

In Massachusetts April 20, four pro-family groups asked the state high court to stay its decision for two years. Massachusetts’ legislators recently completed the first step in a three-step process of sending a marriage amendment to voters. But because of state law, it will not go to voters before 2006, at the earliest.

“Staying the decision to allow the amendment process to move forward is the right thing to do,” Erik Stanley, chief counsel of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement. “It is up to the people of Massachusetts to decide whether to allow same-sex marriage — not the courts.”

The petition was filed on behalf of C. Joseph Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts. He is represented by the Liberty Counsel, Citizens for the Preservation of Constitutional Rights, Thomas More Law Center and the American Family Association Center for Law and Policy.
For more information about the national debate over same-sex “marriage,” visit

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  • Michael Foust