Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Judge legalizes civil unions in Oregon

In a surprise ruling hailed by gay rights activists, U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman announced his decision on Friday, Feb. 1, to legalize civil unions in the state of Oregon.

The new law, which was originally supposed to go into effect on Jan. 1, was stalled after opponents filed a lawsuit to discredit the Legislature’s decision and force a public vote.   Mosman’s ruling lifted the temporary injunction, allowing same-sex couples to register for domestic partnership certificates starting the following Monday.

According to The Oregonian, Mosman has a strong conservative background.   His appointment by President Bush in 2003 was cause for concern among many gay rights groups, including Basic Rights Oregon.   Pro-choice activists also worried that the judge’s Mormon faith would influence his legal decisions.   Mosman’s ruling on Friday came as a welcome surprise for those who doubted his reserve.

“One of my strongest religious views is the important principle of separation of church and state,” Mosman told The Oregonian.   “That is vital for the state, and it is vital for religion.”

The first day of registration for Oregonians seeking civil unions was greeted with celebration.   The Multnomah County Courthouse in Portland overflowed with applicants.   Many exchanged rings, toasted each other and waved their new certificates in the air, according to a report by The Seattle Times.   Volunteers showed up and passed out chocolate cupcakes to excited couples.

Although turnout was more subdued in smaller, eastern Oregon cities, two couples arrived at the Umatilla County Courthouse on Monday morning.   The four women, all high school teachers in Milton-Freewater, told reporters from The East Oregonian that the records officers who assisted them inside were helpful and kind.

“This is a positive step forward,” Heidi Thorstad told The East Oregonian.   Thorstad came to the courthouse on the first day with her partner, Michelle Snyder.   “It means a lot that our relationship is recognized, that we have legal standing.”

Civil unions provide some but not all of the legal rights of marriage.   Same-sex couples can now inherit each other’s property, make medical decisions on each other’s behalf, and file joint tax returns, among other benefits.

Oregon now joins eight other states across the nation that approve some form of spousal rights for gay couples.   Of its neighboring states, only California allows legal recognition of gay couples through civil unions.   Washington, Idaho and Nevada have all passed Defense of Marriage acts prohibiting gay marriage, and currently have no laws in place that allow civil unions.

In 2004, Oregon’s Multnomah County famously passed a law authorizing gay marriage, of which about 3,000 couples took advantage.   The marriages were later voided after the state declared them unconstitutional.

Opponents of the new domestic partnership law plan to appeal, saying it violates the will of the Oregon voters who passed a statewide ban on gay marriage in 2004.

“To me, this is no different than marriage,” said Portland resident Carrie Parkins, in an interview with The Seattle Times.   “As long as we are getting the same benefits, it doesn’t matter what it is called.”

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