In a memo sent to state agencies on October 16, state Chief Operating Officer Michael Jordan said same-sex couples married in places where it’s legal are immediately eligible for the same benefits as other heterosexual couples. Said Matt Shelby, spokesman for the Department of Administrative Services, “it’s pretty wide- ranging if you think about all the places where a married couple could interact with a state agency. Whether it is income taxes or filing a business or the other multitude of places where a married couple would have some rights or responsibilities, this decision be applied in many other states with constitutional bans.”
Jordan wanted the opinion because the U.S. Supreme Court decision last June invalidated portions of the Defense of Marriage Act . This meant that federal agencies operating in Oregon could be dealing with same-sex couples differently than state agencies. For example, The Internal Revenue Service determined that legally married gay couples can file joint federal tax returns even if they live in states that do not recognize such unions. The Labor Department states that same-sex couples have the same federal rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to employee benefits such as pensions and 401Ks.
State Department of Justice’s Opinion
Jordan made the decision based on a legal opnion from the Oregon Department of Justice. The Department of Justice reviewed the potential impact of federal decisions on Oregon state agencies: the administering of state programs.
Deputy Attorney General Mary H. Williams wrote the state DOJ opinion and describes how Oregon courts have consistenly recognized valid out-of-state marriages, even when the marriage could not be performed here, such as common-law marriage. Williams said that “prohibiting out-of-state gay marriages would likely violate the federal constitution. Oregon law must still pass muster under the federal constitution.”
The Department of Justice decided that” Oregon can no longer choose to recognize out- of -state marriages from heterosexual couples while refusing to recognize those from same-sex couples. “If an Oregon court construed our constitution so as to prohibit recognition of out-of-state marriages, we believe the court would find that provisions violates the federal constitutions equal principles,” according to Williams’s opnions.
“We cannont identify any defensible state interest, much less a legitimate or compelling one, in refusing to recognize marriages performed between consenting, unrelated adults under the laws of another state.”
Future of Oregon Marriage
Presently, Oregon law bans same-sex marriage. The state constitution was amended in 2004 by voters to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
A May poll in Oregan found that a plurality of Oregon voters are ready to vote for same-sex marriage. Activists are collecting signatures necesarry for a ballot initiative to repeal the amendment.
As in other states that do not have same—sex marriage, two gay couples filed suit this past week challenging the ban’s constitutionality.