Judge strikes down gay marriage ban

<p>Milton-Freewater teachers Liz Cahill and Diane Groff drove to Portland on March 3, 2004, after Multnomah County began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples only to have it rescinded in the following weeks. In light of Monday's ruling by Judge Michael McShane that Oregon's ban on same sex marriages as unconstitutional, Cahill and Groff have started planning their wedding.</p>

Gay couples won the right to marry in Oregon after a federal judge on Monday struck down a voter-approved ban as unconstitutional. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael McShane makes Oregon the 18th state to allow same-sex marriage.

Diane Groff and Liz Cahill celebrated the news by finalizing their wedding guest list on an iPad at the Great Pacific Wine & Coffee Co. in Pendleton. The women, both teachers at McLoughlin High School in Milton-Freewater, asked for leave three weeks ago, anticipating an emotional reaction to the verdict on Monday.

“It would have been hard to keep it together,” said Cahill, who teaches social studies in a different building on campus from where Groff teaches science.

The couple plans to marry in September.

“Our Save the Date cards are already in my Snapfish queue,” Groff said.

Groff and Cahill have been together for 21 years. When Multnomah County started issuing licenses in May of 2004, they drove to Portland with another couple to wait outside the courthouse where the line wrapped around the block. They stood in the rain, helicopters flying overhead and police standing ready in case of trouble. Four hours later, they had their marriage certificate in hand after being married by a volunteer minister on the courthouse steps.

The joy was short-lived. The Oregon Supreme Court nullified more than 3,000 licenses issued to gay couples that year.

“They sent us our money and our annulment a few months later,” Groff said.

This time around, the couple couldn’t contain their elation as they accepted hugs and congratulations from a stream of friends at the Great Pacific.

Groff and Cahill weren’t the only ones celebrating. Jerri Flynn and Janet Jones, of Pendleton, have been together for 37 years. They had considered marrying in another state.

“We’re glad we waited for Oregon,” Jones said. “It’s a very happy day.”

Pendleton native Jeff Read is one who didn’t wait. He and his husband, Ben Kaufmann, got married in Washington, D.C., last summer.

“I’m very happy today thinking of my friends back in Oregon who will be able to have the recognition Ben and I enjoy,” said Read, an analyst for the Food and Drug Administration. “I’m happy Liz and Diane and their families don’t have to wait another day.”

While couples lined up at Portland-area courthouses and others around the state, none have stopped into the Umatilla County Courthouse yet for a license. Steve Churchill, who heads the county’s records department, said the computers were updated to print proper application forms for same-gender couples.

“Before, they said ‘groom’ and ‘bride,’” Churchill said. “Now they say ‘Party A’ and ‘Party B.’”

Not everyone is pleased at the ban’s demise, including the Oregon Catholic Conference.

The group released a statement after the ruling that said, “It is a sad day for democracy when one federally appointed judge can overturn, without any representation, the express will of the people of Oregon.”

The National Organization for Marriage on Monday filed an emergency appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The group is arguing it should have been granted the opportunity to defend the marriage amendment when it filed a motion last month that was rejected by the judge.

“The people of Oregon are entitled to a defense of their decision on marriage rather than being abandoned in court,” said NOM President Brian Brown on the organization’s website.

McShane addressed critics in his opinion paper by speaking directly to those who fear that legalizing same-sex marriage is the beginning of a slippery slope.

“To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other … and rise.”

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Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or call 541-966-0810.

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