Oregon marriage ban lawsuit begins, without defenders

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The legal challenge to Oregon’s ban on marriage equality began as scheduled on April 23—without the intervention of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage (NOM).

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane, who is one of nine openly gay members of the federal bench, heard the opening arguments beginning at 1:30 pm in the case of Geiger v. Kitzhaber, which combined two nearly identical lawsuits. One, from October 2013, was filed in federal court on the behalf of a lesbian couple living in Portland that has been together for more than three decades, and the second, filed in December 2013 by the ACLU, involves a lesbian widow and a male couple.

While Judge McShane refused to delay the trial so that NOM could take serve as part of the defense, he agreed to allow the group to petition at another hearing, which is scheduled to be held on May 14. If he agrees that they have legal standing, opening arguments will be rescheduled so that NOM’s attorneys can step in and defend current law.

According to Oregon’s KOIN 6 News, as late as Sunday, April 20, no briefs had been filed with the court in support of the state law. Another anti-equality group, Oregon Family Council, told KOIN that the organization “did not seek to get involved in the Oregon case or file a legal analysis because it does not have legal standing.”

NOM didn’t file its motion to intervene until the last minute—Monday, April 21. According to a post on the NOM Blog that day, “the intervention filing became necessary when the state Attorney General refused to mount a defense of the amendment.” Left unexplained was the reason for the long delay, given that Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, made her refusal public on February 20.

For the time being, NOM’s exclusion means that lawsuit is in the unusual position of having both sides of a case in agreement that the law in question is unconstitutional.

Outside the courts, the pro-LGBT activist group Oregon United For Marriage is collecting signatures for a ballot initiative in November 2014, intended to excise the state’s constitutional ban and replace it with language that grants everyone the freedom to marry without regard to the gender of the participants.

According to LGBTQ Nation, the organization said in December 2013 that it had exceeded the minimum number of 116,284 required signatures to qualify for the next election’s ballot, but was continuing to collect more; they have until July 3, 2014 to turn in the petition.

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