EUGENE – A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a national group cannot defend Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage after the state attorney general refused to do so, paving the way for a ruling on the ban that could come at any time.
The National Organization of Marriage argued it should be allowed to intervene on behalf of its members in Oregon.
It declined to identify members citing fears they’ll be harassed, but said they include a county clerk who issues wedding licenses; the owner of a wedding business; and a voter who cast a ballot in favor of the 2004 ballot measure that added a same-sex marriage ban to the state constitution.
The move was opposed by lawyers for the state and for four gay and lesbian couples who brought the case.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, a Democrat, said the ban is legally indefensible and had urged the judge to throw it out, creating a rare case where both plaintiffs and defendants sought the same outcome.
“It is the attorney general’s incredible abandonment of her duty to defend the state’s interest … that has necessitated NOM’s intervention in this matter,” attorneys for the National Organization for Marriage wrote in a brief filed last week in support of its request.
The gay couples and the state argued the national group failed to file its motion on time, lacks appropriate authority and is simply trying to delay the proceedings.
The group members seeking to intervene have no personal stake, lawyers for the couples wrote in a brief.
“These are people who simply would rather live and work in a state that does not license and recognize the marriages of same-sex couples,” they wrote.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that proponents of California’s same-sex marriage ban, known as Proposition 8, did not have legal authority to appeal a lower court ruling that overturned the initiative. But that case reviewed the ability of private groups to appeal, which is based on different rules from those governing motions to intervene at the trial-court level.
Oregon law has long prohibited same-sex marriage, and voters added the ban to the state constitution in 2004.
The decision, approved by 57 percent of voters, came months after Multnomah County, which is the state’s largest and includes Portland, briefly issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. About 3,000 gay couples were allowed to marry before a judge halted the practice. The Oregon Supreme Court later invalidated the marriages.