U.S. District Judge Michael McShane determined that same-gender marriage won't burden any legitimate state interest

by: CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO - Prineville resident Becky Groves (left) has advocated for marriage equality for the past 10 years.

Following a ruling by a federal judge on two separate cases, Oregon has become the latest state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Michael McShane ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in Geiger v. Kitzhaber and Rummell v. Kitzhaber, two cases that challenged Oregon’s Measure 36 ban on same-sex marriage.

“Expanding the embrace of civil marriage to gay and lesbian couples will not burden any legitimate state interest,” McShane wrote in his ruling. “The state’s marriage laws unjustifiably treat same-gender couples differently than opposite gender couples.”

The ruling spawned statements from multiple state officials, including Gov. John Kitzhaber, House Majority Leader Val Hoyle, House Minority Leader Mike McLane, and Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian.

“When we talk about marriage equality, we’re talking about the rights we demand for every person in this state, whether it’s equal opportunity for a good education, for affordable health care, for access to a good job and a more prosperous life,” Kitzhaber said. “Now, finally, all Oregonians will have the opportunity to make a legal commitment to the person they love.”

McLane addressed the differing beliefs about marriage and how those who hold different philosophies need to embrace both views.

“For those who believe marriage is a religious covenant, the origin of which predates America, today’s federal ruling won’t change that,” he said. “For those who believe marriage is a legal union between two people that is recognized and enforced by our state government, today’s ruling is a logical extension of the Supreme Court’s ruling last summer ... My hope is that the process of reconciliation in Oregon will continue as we both move forward with respect for each other.”

For Prineville resident Becky Groves, the ruling represents a major milestone for her ongoing advocacy for marriage equality, and more importantly, a better future for her son. She has been advocating for gay and lesbian rights, including marriage equality, since her son Adam came out 10 years ago.

“I was in Louisiana with Adam and Michael (his partner of seven years) and were watching our phones, waiting for the news,” she said. “Of course, we were very excited when we heard. We thought it was going to go our way, but you never know.”

Serving as the state coordinator of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), she has hoped her work would one day enable her son to get married.

“I knew that I had to stand up for this, because it is really important,” she said. “My PFLAG chapter (in Central Oregon) has been collecting signatures to get it (marriage equality) on the ballot.”

Groves said they exceeded their signature goal and felt if the judge ruled differently, they had a chance to legalize same-sex marriage in the upcoming election.

“This (ruling) made it a whole lot easier,” she said. “It saved us a lot of money.”

When Adam first came out, Groves was most troubled by the possibility that her son would never get married. With the ruling, he and his partner will not only get married, but do so in his home state.

“It has been baby steps along the way,” she said. “We worked for civil unions, then domestic partnerships. We always knew that marriage was the ultimate goal because a domestic partnership, nobody understands what that is and there were a lot of problems involved with it. Everybody knows what marriage is. It’s a commitment of love between two people and it shouldn’t make a difference if both of them are the same gender.”

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