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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) and domestic partnerships in Oregon

Unsuccessful attempt to legalize SSMs.
Creation of domestic partnerships.

2004 to 2008

Part 1:

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2004-2005: Same-sex marriage in Oregon:

  • 2004 MAR-APR: Multnomah County, OR, issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples for the first time. The constitutionality of these licenses were always in doubt. About 3,000 marriages were performed in the county, which includes the city of Portland.

  • 2004-NOV: Oregonians passed Ballot Measure 36 a constitutional amendment that restricted marriage to a union between one man and one woman. That battle was led by the Oregon Family Council. The amendment passed with a 56.6% vote in favor.  11

  • 2005-APR-14: The Oregon Supreme Court declared that all of the SSMs that had been solemnized were unlawful because the marriage licenses were unconstitutional under Oregon law. Justice W. Michael Gillette wrote for the court:

    ''County officials were entitled to have their doubts about the constitutionality of limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples. But marriage and the laws governing it are matters of statewide, not local, concern. ... Today, marriage in Oregon -- an institution once limited to opposite-sex couples only by statute -- now is so limited by the State Constitution, as well.''  1

Rebekah Kassell is a spokesperson for Basic Rights Oregon -- a group promoting marriage equality for all couples. She said:

"We are going to continue to advocate for civil unions, and we are confident that the courts will end the exclusion of same-sex couples from these protections for their relationships and their families.''

Katie Potter, 40, is the daughter of Mayor Tom Potter of Portland, OR. She and her spouse had celebrated their first wedding anniversary on 2005-MAR-03, shortly before they were forcibly divorced by the court. She said:

''I feel our marriage is solid regardless of the decision today, I realize and acknowledge that the state is not going to accept it and acknowledge it. But we were married, and I'll never again feel like what it -- surprisingly -- felt like after getting married that day. ... It was enjoying that moment of having, suddenly, someone say there is validity to this [relationship], outside of us''  1

Also during 2005-APR, Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski, and several state senators, introduced House Bill 2007: the Oregon Family Fairness Act. 2 It proposed the creation of domestic partnerships in the state. Kevin Neely, a spokesman for the Oregon attorney general, Hardy Myers. said:

''The state's position from the outset was that the fundamental issue was whether or not same-sex couples were entitled to the rights and privileges of marriage, not just the institution of marriage itself.''  1

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2007-APR/MAY: Domestic partnerships in Oregon:

The Oregon House passed  the Oregon Family Fairness Act on 2007-APR-17.The vote in the Senate was 21 to 9 in favor on 2007-MAY-02. It was signed into law on 2007-MAY-10 by Governor Theodore R. Kulongoski (D). 4 It allowed committed same-sex couples to register as domestic partners. It  was intended to take effect on 2008-JAN-01. The law gives some spousal rights, previously restricted to opposite-sex couples, to registered same-sex couples as well. 4

The Associated Press reported that:

"The domestic partnerships measure covers benefits relating to inheritance rights, child-rearing and custody, joint tax filings, joint health, auto and homeowners insurance policies and visitation rights at hospitals." 3

Over 500 state rights, privileges and obligations are involved, such as the right to sue for a wrongful death, to be buried together with one's partner in a cemetery, to visit one's partner in a long-term care facility, etc. -- rights that married couples are automatically granted.

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Opposition surfaces:

A petition drive was initiated by two groups of social and religious conservatives: Concerned Oregonians and Defense of Marriage Again. Their goal was to require that two laws be not made effective until they are first approved by the public on the 2008-NOV ballot.

bullet Petition #303 was to authorize a plebiscite to have the voters either implement or annul the Oregon Family Fairness Act that created domestic partnerships.

bullet Petition #304 was to have a plebiscite on bill S2. That bill was sponsored by the legislature's Committee of Judiciary at the request of the Governor's Task force of Equality in Oregon. 5 S2 was signed into law on the same day as the Fairness Act. It forbids discrimination against heterosexuals, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender persons and cisgendered persons on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. That is, it gives every person equal protection under law. The petitioners were apparently unaware of the universal scope of the law because they described it as providing "special rights, privileges, and protections to homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders [sic], and those who have 'gender identity' issues." 6

A gay-positive group's website at " (KTNO), claimed that they were concerned about petition fraud. Since petitions are public knowledge, they decided to publish on their website the name and address of every person who signs the petition. That way, if a person:

"... finds their name on this list erroneously they should immediately contact both the Secretary of State and and we will provide that information once names and addresses have been posted to our database." 6

KTNO stated that they wished to:

"... inspire respectful, civil, and honest community discourse and discourages with its fullest conviction the actions by anyone to harm a person or their property in retribution for exercising their democratic right to sign the petition."  6

David Crow, Director of Restore America, concluded that KTNO's activity was less than genuine:

"... smacks of Nazi Germany, Stalin, Mao, Arafat, and fanatical Islam, and is the harbinger of things to come. Such an announcement supports the common view that this determined special interest group will stop at nothing to force our acceptance not only of their behavior, but our compliance to their wishes and world view." 6,7

The petitioners had to collect at least 55,179 signatures on each of their petitions. According to a ruling of the Oregon secretary of state in 2007-OCT, they fell 96 signatures short on Petition #303.The groups petitioned the Federal District Court, claiming that county clerks had rejected some signatures improperly. Court judge Michael Mosman issued a temporary injunction that temporarily prevented the law from coming into effect on 2008-JAN-01. 8

Austin Nimocks, a lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund, a fundamentalist Christian legal defense organization, argued that a signature on a petition should have the same importance as a signature on a ballot. Thus, officials should have made more of an effort to contact members of the public whose signatures were disqualified.

A federal judge ruled that the state's process of disqualifying petition signatures was sufficiently consistent to be valid.  The injunction was removed and the Oregon Family Fairness Act took effect on 2008-FEB-01. 9

Kathy Belge of described some of the over 500 rights that are granted to registered Oregon domestic partners. 10 One of the missing rights is the most important to many same-sex couples: the right to call their relationship a marriage. Still unobtainable, of course, were the approximately 1,040 rights, obligations, and privileges that opposite-sex couples receive from the federal government when they marry. At the time, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibited the federal goverment from recognizing same-sex marriages even if they are legal in the state. However, on 2013-JUN-26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case United States v. Windsor that Section 3 of the federal DOMA law was unconstitutional. This made married same-sex couples whose marriage is recognized in the state where they live to be eligable for 1,138 federal benefits, grants and protections on a par with opposite-sex couples. This has placed heavy pressure on Oregon and other states to recognize the marriages of its same-sex couples.

This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Sarah Kershaw, "Oregon Supreme Court Invalidates Same-Sex Marriages," New York Times, 2005-APR-15, at:
  2. The text of the Oregon Family Fairness Act is at:
  3. "Oregon Domestic Partnerships," Associated Press, 2007-MAY-10, at:
  4. "Oregon Same-Sex Benefits Receive Final Legislative Approval" Associated Press, 2007-MAY-03, at:
  5. "Senate Bill 2" at:
  6. Marsha West, "Will Christians panic over homosexual threats?." News with Views, 2007-AUG-24, at:
  7. Restore America's web site is at:
  8. "Oregon Law is Delayed," Associated Press, 2007-DEC-29, at:
  9. Ruling Allows Legal Status for Partners of Same Sex," Associated Press, 2008-FEB-03, at:
  10. Kathy Belge, "Q. What Rights Come with an Oregon Domestic Partnership?,", at:

Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Menu > Oregon > here

Copyright © 2008 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2008-FEB-06
Latest update: 2014-MAR-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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