Oregon same-sex couples fight gay marriage ban with state on their side

Wed Apr 23, 2014 11:08pm EDT
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By Teresa Carson

EUGENE, Oregon (Reuters) - Lawyers for four same-sex couples challenging Oregon's prohibition on gay marriage appeared before a federal judge on Wednesday to argue their case, even as the state declined to defend the ban.

Oregon's attorney general declined to defend the state's constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2004 that defined marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman.

The judge was not expected to rule immediately.

Officials from several other states, including California, Nevada and Virginia, have likewise refused to defend such laws in court as gay marriage proponents make legal headway across the country.

Marriage rights have been extended to gay couples in 17 states and the District of Columbia in a trend that has gained momentum since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that legally married same-sex couples nationwide are eligible for federal benefits.

That decision, which struck down part of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, has been cited by a number of federal judges in subsequent opinions overturning state bans on gay matrimony.

"As creative as state attorneys can be, and we can be very creative, we could not come up with a justification" for maintaining a prohibition on gay marriage, special Assistant Attorney General Mary Williams told a 90-minute hearing in a packed Eugene courtroom.

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane asked several of the attorneys present whether they thought it was appropriate to tell Oregon voters, "You wasted your time."   Continued...

Supporters of same-sex marriage gather for a rally in Portland, Oregon April 22, 2014. REUTERS/Steve Dipaola