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Oregon likely next to legalize gay marriage

PORTLAND — The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday dangled tempting incentives behind the overthrow of 29 state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage: the possibilities of health insurance, hospital visitation rights and Social Security benefits among them.

That’s particularly true in Oregon, where a 2004 ballot measure bans same-sex marriage in the state despite near-uniform opposition from the state’s highest quarters. Nearly a decade after the vote to approve the ban passed with 57 percent of the vote, Oregon could be the first state to test the impact of the Supreme Court decision on its electorate.

Same-sex marriage supporters are readying two measures for a signature drive intended to reverse the ban, known as Measure 36. They need to obtain more than 116,000 signatures to appear on the 2014 ballot.

While celebrating the victory, supporters of same-sex marriage made clear that their priorities rest on the upcoming vote. Opponents of same-sex marriage made the same assertion.

“The Court’s decision to strike down DOMA sends a wrong message in our opinion,” the Oregon Family Council said in a statement Wednesday. “It appears Oregonians will have another chance to continue this discussion in 2014.”

The ruling from the Supreme Court rejected an argument to extend the recognition of full federal benefits to couples in states, including Oregon, that have laws allowing domestic partnerships and civil unions.

Polling has shown a shift in Oregon on attitudes toward same-sex marriage since 2004. Successful pushes for same-sex marriage in 12 states, including neighboring Washington state — where some Oregon couples have married — emboldened the petitioners before 2014.

Democrats, including the state party, lauded the vote.

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, the first openly lesbian lawmaker to lead a state legislative chamber in the U.S., said the ruling offers hope to same-sex marriage supporters in the state.

“The rulings of the highest court in the land offer support and hope for our efforts to achieve marriage equality in 2014,” Kotek said.

Gov. John Kitzhaber issued a statement calling the decisions “a proud moment for the nation,” but said the state still needed to catch up.

“Oregon has not yet lived up to the ideal of equal rights for all,” Kitzhaber said. “When we talk about the freedom to marry, we’re talking about the basic equality we demand for every person.”

Multnomah County Republican Party chair Jeff Reynolds said he works with both the Oregon Family Council and the Log Cabin Republicans, the group representing gay Republicans. He said the Oregon Republican platform is consistent — defining marriage as being between one man and one woman — and “our platform does not change on the winds of public polling.”

But the platform itself has been moderated. Language that was construed by some members of the party as anti-gay was stripped out after a contentious state party convention in Bend in 2011.

Members of Oregon’s congressional delegation responded quickly to the news. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, posted a picture on Twitter with the Supreme Court’s columns recast in rainbow colors under the phrase “equal justice under law.” Sen. Jeff Merkley called the decision “a huge stride forward for equality and fairness.”

Noting that 12 states and Washington, D.C., authorized same-sex marriage in 2013 and Oregon wasn’t among them, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales’ office said, “We can dare to hope that we will change that” in 2014.

Reach reporter Nigel Duara on Twitter at

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press


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