Lawsuit to Block Multnomah County, Oregon, From Issuing Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Mar 11, 2004

Multnomah County, Oregon – Today, Johny Belgarde filed suit in the Oregon Supreme Court against Multnomah County, seeking to bar county officials from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Mr. Belgarde is represented by Brian Fahling, Senior Trial Attorney of the AFA Center for Law and Policy, and Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel.

On March 3, 2004, County Commissioner Diane Linn, Maria Rojo De Steffey, Serena Cruz and Lisa Naito, unilaterally, without legal authority, and without a duly noticed public hearing, agreed that County officials could begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On the same day, Ms. Linn, as Chairwoman of the Board of County Commissioners, directed County officials to begin issuing these licenses.

Oregon law states that marriage is the joining “together as husband and wife the persons named in the license.” The common and ordinary meanings of “husband” and “wife” clearly limit marriage to one man and one woman. Oregon law also states that “[n]o county clerk shall issue a license contrary to the provisions” of Oregon law, and any person who does so is guilty of a criminal misdemeanor. Case law in Oregon also states that marriage is a matter of statewide concern, is under the jurisdiction of the state, and may not be altered by local governmental entities, such as Multnomah County.

Last Friday, some individuals filed suit against Multnomah County officials under the open meetings law, since 4 out of the 5 commissioners met privately 2 by 2 to come up with this scheme. A request for a restraining order was denied Monday, and another hearing is scheduled Friday. A successful resolution of that case would require the 5 commissioners to meet in public to do what 4 of them unlawfully did in private. Today’s suit by Mr. Belgarde seeks a writ of mandamus to permanently block Multnomah County from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Attorney Fahling of the AFA Center for Law and Policy stated, “Multnomah County officials are not above the law. Marriage is a matter of statewide policy, a matter for the people and their legislature to decide. County officials have no authority to alter marriage law. Their actions should be seen for what they are – an illegal exercise of power.”

Attorney Staver of Liberty Counsel stated, “Marriage between one man and one woman is fundamental to our society. Local county officials have no right to change millennia of human history by secretly concocting illegal maneuvers to rewrite marriage law and policy. State and local enforcement agencies are ignoring their duties to uphold the law. They should immediately and swiftly put an end to this illegal activity.”

Last Friday, Liberty Counsel obtained an emergency court order blocking Mayor Jason West of New Paltz, New York, from solemnizing same-sex unions. Judge Vincent Bradley stated that Mayor West violated his oath of office by illegally solemnizing same-sex unions.