ACLU Files Lawsuit in Oregon Seeking Marriage Equality for Same-Sex Couples

Affiliate: ACLU of Oregon
March 24, 2004 12:00 am

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PORTLAND, OR – The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today challenging an Oregon law that discriminates against same-sex couples by denying them marriage and the rights and protections that come with it.

“Oregon’s constitution doesn’t allow people to be discriminated against because they are lesbian and gay, but that’s exactly what Oregon’s marriage law does,” said Jann Carson, Associate Director of the ACLU of Oregon. “The lawsuit we filed today will help us get this issue addressed by the courts as quickly as possible so that same-sex couples will no longer have to face family hardships because they are unprotected by the law.”

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of nine same-sex couples and Basic Rights Oregon, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy group. Four of the couples are already married after receiving licenses in Multnomah County, two of the couples were hoping to get licenses from Benton County before that county’s decision to stop issuing all marriage licenses, two couples were denied marriage licenses from the clerk in Lane County, and one of the couples has not applied yet.

“Marriage is a commitment shared by two people who love each other and agree to look out for each other during the good times and the bad,” said Roey Thorpe, Executive Director of Basic Rights Oregon. “Two adults who make this personal choice to form a life-long commitment should not be denied the right to marry just because they are gay or lesbian.”

The ACLU filed the lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court in accordance with an agreement among the parties already involved in cases, which began after Multnomah County started issuing licenses. The case is assigned to Judge Frank Bearden, who said he intends to move the case through the trial court quickly. Cases brought by the Defense of Marriage Coalition, which sought to invalidate the marriages of same-sex couples, will be dismissed on the condition that the Defense of Marriage Coalition is allowed to participate in the lawsuit filed today. Multnomah County will also be allowed to be a party in the litigation.

The couples represented by the ACLU include:

  • Mary Li and Becky Kennedy were the first couple to receive a marriage license from Multnomah County. They have been in a committed relationship for more than three years and have a nine-month-old daughter. Mary understands very clearly what it’s like to face discrimination in marriage. Her father, who is Chinese, married her mother, who is white, in 1963, before the United States Supreme Court finally said that it is unconstitutional for any state to bar marriages between people of different races.
  • Katie Potter and Pam Moen, both police officers in Portland, met on the job in 1990 and got married in Portland the first day Multnomah County issued licenses to same-sex couples. They are the proud moms of two daughters, a four-year-old and a one-year-old. Because of the nature of their jobs, Katie and Pam constantly worry about how they would protect their family if one of them were killed or injured in the line of duty. Unfortunately, they are denied many protections, including a $25,000 payment that would go to the survivor if one of them were killed on duty, as well as health, education and mortgage benefits, available to their straight colleagues who marry.
  • Sally Sheklow and Enid Lefton of Lane County have been together for over 17 years. They were married by a rabbi at a commitment ceremony in Eugene in 1998 and would now like to make their marriage legal. Because Sally and Enid are unable to marry legally, Enid cannot cover Sally through her employer-sponsored health plan. Sally, a 53-year-old self-employed writer and part-time teacher, makes slightly too much money to qualify for Medicaid coverage and is unable to find a private insurer willing to provide coverage to her.
  • Walter Frankel and Curtis Kiefer, together for 23 years, were planning to obtain a marriage license in Benton County before the county commissioners decided to stop the issuance of all licenses. As they near retirement age, Walter, who is 65, and Curtis, who is 52, have become increasingly concerned about their ability to take care of each other in their later years. Because they can’t marry, they are denied many benefits including pension and Social Security coverage as well as hospital visitation and the right to make emergency medical decisions for each other. The couple has already experienced some of this discrimination. When Curtis’s mother was dying in the intensive care unit, Walter was permitted to visit only after Curtis was forced to plead with the hospital.

A hearing on the constitutional issues raised in the ACLU’s complaint is expected in mid-April before Judge Bearden. The couples are represented by Ken Choe, a staff attorney for the National ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, and ACLU of Oregon cooperating attorney Lynn Nakamoto of Markowitz, Herbold, Glade & Mehlhaf of Portland.

The Complaint is online at /node/35021

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