WASHINGTON (ABP) — Oregon's most populous county began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples March 3, marking the latest incident of local officials following the lead of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in allowing the practice.
Two gay men and two lesbians wed each other at a hotel in downtown Portland, the first beneficiaries of Multnomah County officials' decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. A majority of county commissioners reportedly decided to go ahead with the plan after the county's attorney issued an opinion that such marriages would not violate state law.
Oregon is one of 13 states with no laws on its books defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Multnomah County follows in the footsteps of San Francisco; Sandoval County, N.M., and the village of New Paltz, N.Y. — all of which have begun issuing marriage licenses to gay couples in the last three weeks.
Massachusetts will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in May. That state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled in November that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the Massachusetts Constitution's guarantees for equal protection under law.
Meanwhile, in Washington, a Senate hearing on same-sex marriage matched supporters and opponents of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban the practice.
The Federal Marriage Amendment, currently making its way through both houses of Congress, would ban marriage and “the legal incidents thereof” to same-sex couples nationwide. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution, convened a panel March 3 to discuss the broader topic of whether recent judicial decisions made such an amendment necessary to “protect” the institution of heterosexual marriage.
In his opening statement, Cornyn said the amendment was necessary because “activist judges like those in Massachusetts, California and elsewhere” are presenting “a clear and present danger to traditional marriage laws across the nation.”
But the subcommittee's ranking minority member, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), said that was a “gross mischaracterization of the judicial landscape.” Referring to the constitutional amendment ratification process, he continued: “I simply fail to see how it is more democratic to have three quarters of the states decide this issue for Massachusetts than to let the people of Massachusetts — or Wisconsin, for that matter — decide this for themselves.”