Oregonians say court's marriage ruling hits close to home
Wednesday mornings Supreme Court decision on marriage equality struck close to home for Beavertons Dawn Holt. As president of the Portland chapter of the Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, Holts emotional connection to the ruling striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act focused on her gay son, Christopher.
When the day comes I dont want to come to his domestic partnership, said a teary Holt. I want to go to his wedding. We all know what that means.
Holt was one of several Oregonians celebrating the U.S. Supreme Courts decision that effectively struck down 1996s Defense of Marriage Act. The 5-4 ruling said that the federal act was unconstitutional because it violated the Fifth Amendments right to equal protection. The courts decision by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the federal act limited the way states could recognize marriage or civil unions, creating unequal classes of people who could have civil unions but not the benefits of legal marriage.
Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley called the decision a huge stride forward for equality and fairness.
No one should be denied equal rights because of whom they love and discrimination has no place in our laws, said Merkley, a Democrat from Portland.
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici said the Supreme Court's decision was "a historic moment for America and another leap toward equal rights for all Americans regardless of sexual orientation."
"As a nation, we have finally arrived at the obvious conclusion that the validity of a marriage is not subject to popular vote, but instead guaranteed as a matter of right," said Bonamici, a Beaverton Democrat representing Oregon's 1st Congressional District. "Love has replaced hate as the governing factor in the decision of same sex couples to marry.
Vaune Albanese, executive director of Portlands Friendly House, which operates the SAGE Metro Portland program for lesbian and gay older adults, said the Defense of Marriage Act decision was a relief to many older gay people in the region.
This will be a day people in the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) community will remember for the rest of our lives, Albanese said. SAGE members in their 80s and 90s have wondered if this day would come in their lifetimes.
Gov. John Kitzhaber called the ruling a proud moment for the nation.
In Oregon, it underscores the urgency of extending the freedom to marry to all our citizens, Kitzhaber said. For so many people, quality of life includes the equal opportunity to commit to the person they love. This kind of commitment strengthens our society and is good for our country.
The Oregon Family Council, which supports the Defense of Marriage Act and formed in 2004 the Defense of Marriage Coalition, was disappointed in Wednesdays Supreme Court ruling.
Council officials said the decision sends a wrong message that is less about whats best for children which in general is having them raised by their married mothers and fathers and more about the interests of romantically involved adults.
The rulings leave in place the marriage amendments adopted by 30 states, said Teresa Harke, Oregon Family Council spokeswoman. The definition of marriage enshrined by the citizens of Oregon through the passage of Measure 36 is still intact. The Supreme Court found no constitutional right to redefine marriage.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum warned that Wednesdays decision could have little effect here until Oregons constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is overturned.
Oregon joined with 13 other states in support of overturning the state constitutional bans, Rosenblum said. While I am disappointed we did not hit a home run today, the Supreme Court's DOMA opinion reflects a new day for marriage equality in the United States. Oregon may not be officially at the party yet, but it is just a matter of time until there is full recognition of all loving couples' right to marry in Oregon.
Wednesdays decision was based on a New York case involving two women, Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, who were legally married in Ontario, Canada, in 2007. When Spyer died in 2009, the Defense of Marriage Act prevented Windsor from claiming the estate tax exemption for a surviving spouse.
Windsor paid the taxes and challenged the law in federal court.
Also on Wednesday, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal on California's Proposition 8, which denied same-sex couples the right to marry. That decision effectively ended California's ban on same-sex marriage because it affirmed a federal court ruling overturning the ban.
We believe in marriage
Beavertons Holt has been involved in gay rights issues for more than a decade after her son Christopher came out to the family when he was just 14. Today, the 25-year-old University of Oregon graduate is close to being able to marry anyone he chooses, Holt said, because of the Supreme Courts decision.
You get married for a lot of reasons, but its about love and commitment, Holt said. Today is about love and acceptance.
Her son majored in Spanish and is returning to school for his teaching certificate. He can be a teacher that can openly support everyone, no matter his or her sexual orientation, said Holt.
Theres momentum like theres never been before, Holt said.
Oregon does not recognize same-sex marriage, but Basic Rights Oregon plans to sponsor an initiative petition in 2014 to allow legal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Even with more work on the state level, Holt is still celebrating Wednesdays court decision.
I want (Christopher) to be able to announce thats my husband, the way Im able to, said Holt. We believe in marriage.
Even though Bob Powers of Portland grew up during a time where being a homosexual was considered a mental illness, on Wednesday Powers chuckled at the idea.
Powers, an author of several books on gay life, and his longtime partner Donald Clement were married in front of their family and friends seven years ago in Vancouver, British Columbia. Their marriage, legally, isnt recognized in Oregon. When they moved to Portland nine years ago, they were known under a new title: domestic partnership.
I wasnt ready for what it meant to us emotionally, said Powers. Our marriage turned into a financial and housing agreement rather than a love agreement.
That arrangement comes with a high cost to some couples, he said.
It varies year to year, but one year our financial adviser found that we were paying $4,000 more in taxes than we would if we were married, said Powers.
Powers estimates that he and Clements wouldve saved between $50,000 and $60,000 on income taxes and other legal logistics, had they been considered legally married.
An activist for gay rights since coming out, Powers has written A Family and Friends Guide to Sexual Orientation and A Managers Guide to Sexual Orientation at the Workplace.
Powers and Clement met at a volunteer party for Under One Roof in San Francisco 17 years ago and have been together ever since.
It didnt take too long to fall in love, said Powers and described their wedding as the most joyous, wonderful experience of my life.
Reporter Kevin L. Harden contributed to this news story.