- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - On March 12, 2004, the state of Oregon had a problem. Its most populous county was handing out marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and the state was unsure whether those actions were on solid legal footing.

Ted Kulongoski, then the governor, asked his attorney general if state agencies should treat same-sex marriages as legal, until the state Supreme Court makes a decision,

“Existing Oregon statutes limit the grant of marriage licenses to one man and one woman,” then-Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers wrote.

That November, 57 percent of Oregon voters agreed to a gay marriage ban. Then the Supreme Court voided the marriage licenses already issued. And federal law still banned the recognition of same-sex couples.


What a difference a decade makes.

Faced with an evolving political landscape, the state of Oregon changed course on Thursday when Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum declared that the state would not defend the gay marriage ban in a federal suit.

“State Defendants will not defend the Oregon ban on same-sex marriage in this litigation,” Rosenblum said in the documents filed in federal court Thursday. “Rather, they will take the position … that the ban cannot withstand a federal constitutional challenge under any standard of review.”

Conservatives said Rosenblum and at least five other attorneys general who made similar declarations had abdicated their duty.

“(Rosenblum) is shamefully abandoning her constitutional duty to defend the marriage amendment overwhelmingly enacted by the people of Oregon,” said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization of Marriage. “She swore an oath of office that she would enforce all the laws, not just those she personally agrees with.”

Rosenblum’s decision comes less than a month after a federal judge decided to consolidate two lawsuits alleging Oregon’s 2004 voter-approved ban violates the U.S. Constitution. While she personally supports gay marriage, Rosenblum said her opinion did not factor into the decision.

In fact, as a state appeals court judge she was part of a panel that unanimously upheld the ban in 2008 under the state constitution.

But the balance nationally has shifted in six years.

“Because we cannot identify a valid reason for the state to prevent the couples who have filed these lawsuits from marrying in Oregon, we find ourselves unable to stand before (the federal judge) to defend the state’s prohibition against marriages between two men or two women,” Rosenblum said during a news conference at the state Capitol.

She said the state would actively participate in the case, but she declined to say whether her office will argue that the ban should be overturned. The state is still working on its legal analysis, she said, and the arguments should be made first in court.

The rulings that have impacted the national debate include the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision to strike down part of the federal law that prevented the government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

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