Voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage struck down for Oregon

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(CNN) — A federal judge struck down Oregon’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage Monday.

“Because Oregon’s marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest, the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” U.S. District Judge Michael McShane said in his ruling.

Oregon voters passed Measure 36 in 2004, which amended the state’s Constitution to define marriage as between one man and a woman.

In February, the state’s attorney general said she would not defend the ban in court because it would not stand up to a federal constitutional challenge.

“My decision will not be the final word on this subject, but on this issue of marriage I am struck more by our similarities than our differences. I believe that if we can look for a moment past gender and sexuality, we can see in these plaintiffs nothing more or less than our own families, families who we would expect our Constitution to protect, if not exalt, in equal measure,” McShane said. “With discernment we see not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather, we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community.”

At a news conference shortly after the judge’s ruling, activists and attorneys who challenged the amendment celebrated the news.

“Love won today,” said Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign.

Multnomah County, Oregon’s largest, had already started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples shortly after the judge’s ruling, attorney Misha Isaak said.

“For a lot of us, this is a very special day,” said Isaak, who was one of the attorneys representing plaintiffs who challenged the ban.

Ten years ago, Rouse said, the first same-sex marriages in the United States were celebrated in Massachusetts. And 45 years ago marked another historic moment, he said.

“Same-sex couples were arrested and sent to jail for dancing together at establishments like the Stonewall Inn,” he said. “Today, 45 years later, in 18 states and now including Oregon and the District of Columbia, same-sex couples are dancing together at their own weddings, and they have wedding rings, not handcuffs. History in Oregon. Congratulations.”