- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

Legal wrangling over new state constitutional amendments on marriage is already under way in Oregon, Louisiana and Oklahoma, and expected within a few weeks in Georgia.

The most explosive case is likely to be in Oregon, where plaintiffs representing 3,000 same-sex couples are suing to have their “marriages” recognized.

Oral arguments before the Oregon Supreme Court had been scheduled for Nov. 17, but now that voters have passed Oregon’s constitutional marriage amendment, the high court has rescheduled arguments for Dec. 15.

Conservative lawyers are expected to ask the high court to dismiss most or all of the same-sex “marriage” lawsuit.

“The fact is that Ballot Measure 36 [the marriage amendment] conclusively establishes that, as a matter of the Oregon Constitution, marriage remains between one man and one woman,” said Kelly Clark, a Portland attorney representing the Defense of Marriage Coalition.

However, lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Oregon said passage of the marriage amendment doesn’t end the debate over same-sex “marriage” in the state.

The new amendment doesn’t explicitly forbid same-sex “marriage” or civil unions, said David Fidanque, executive director of the ACLU state office. “It is way too early” to predict how the high court will react to the new marriage amendment, he added.

Oregon’s amendment says that “only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or legally recognized as a marriage.”

The amendment “does not outlaw civil unions,” Mr. Clark said. “I would argue that it absolutely bans same-sex marriage.”

State officials last week also said the high court must rule on the legality of the 3,000 “marriage” licenses issued in March to same-sex couples by officials in Multnomah County, which includes Portland.

In April, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Frank Bearden stopped the “marriages,” but ordered the state to recognize the ones already issued. He also ordered the legislature to enact a law to “balance the substantive rights” of same-sex domestic partners with those of opposite-sex married couples.

The appeal of the Bearden decision is the subject of the high court’s Dec. 15 hearing.

On Dec. 1, the Louisiana Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on a lower court ruling that overturns that state’s marriage amendment, which passed in September with 78 percent of the vote.

The lower court judge agreed with homosexual-rights lawyers that the amendment covered too many subjects. Lawyers for conservative groups and the lawmakers who wrote the Louisiana amendment say it was written properly.

A challenge to the new Oklahoma marriage amendment was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Tulsa.

Two lesbian couples said the state measure violates their constitutional right to marry. They are also suing to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act because it denies them federal marriage benefits and allows states to disregard out-of-state “marriages” and civil unions.

The plaintiffs are Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin of Broken Arrow, Okla., who had a commitment ceremony several years ago, and Susan G. Barton and Gay E. Phillips of Tulsa, who had a civil union in Vermont in 2001.

Finally, in Georgia, lawyers with Lambda Legal, the ACLU of Georgia and the Atlanta law firm of Alston & Bird say they will challenge that state’s new marriage amendment once votes are certified. The group, which tried in vain to remove the amendment from the ballot last month, will argue again that it covers too many issues and was confusing to voters.

The Georgia amendment, which passed 76 percent to 24 percent, says that “marriage is only the union of man and woman,” that “no union between persons of the same sex shall be recognized by this state as entitled to the benefits of marriage,” and that Georgia will not “give effect” to same-sex marital unions from out of state.

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