In a huge victory for Oregon's gay rights movement, a federal judge on Friday swept aside his earlier order and allowed same-sex couples throughout the state to register as domestic partners.
Jubilant activists predicted that hundreds of couples would line up on Monday morning at county offices to register. Soon after the ruling, the state announced that forms for domestic partnership applications were available online.
"We're a family. We've been waiting for this for a long time," said a beaming Cathy Kravitz, a Portland resident, of her partner of 21 years.
With the ruling from U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman, Oregon becomes the ninth state to approve spousal rights in some form for gay couples, joining Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maine, California, Washington and Hawaii. Massachusetts is the only state that allows gay couples to marry.
Gay couples who register as domestic partners will be able to file joint state tax returns, inherit each other's property and make medical choices on each other's behalf, along with a host of other state benefits given to married Oregonians.
Mosman lifted a temporary injunction he imposed in late December, just days before the domestic partnership law approved in the 2007 legislative session was due to take effect.
In his ruling, issued from the bench, Mosman rejected arguments made by attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based group that advocates for Christian legal issues, who said they will appeal his decision.
The group's lawyers had argued that county elections clerks had improperly disqualified voter signatures collected during a drive to refer the domestic partners law to the November 2008, ballot.
The referendum drive fell 96 signatures short of the 55,179 needed to refer a law passed by the legislature to the ballot.
Alliance Defense Fund lawyer Austin Nimocks had argued that a signature on a petition should be given the same weight as a signature on a ballot, and that elections officials should have made more of an effort to contact voters whose signatures were disqualified.
But Mosman, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, said signatures on a petition amounted to, "a call for an election, not a substitution for an election."
Anti-gay rights activists said they planned to quickly mount another drive to collect signatures to put the issue onto the ballot.
"We want to vote &
we think that our signatures mean something and it was an arbitrary move by the secretary of state's office," said Carolyn Wendell of Stayton, a chief petitioner in the lawsuit. "They just threw petition sheets out left and right."
Gay rights groups said they were prepared to continue fighting for the cause, both in court and on the ballot.
"The (Alliance Defense Fund) is an out-of-state group that could care less about the individual rights of folks here in Oregon," said Jeana Frazzini, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon. "They have certainly demonstrated that through the harm they have caused to same sex couples across this state because of the delay they've faced for the past month."
Nimocks, though, called the judge's ruling a setback for voters
"If you thought that you actually had a right to have your voice count in referendums in Oregon, the judge's ruling has just told you that you don't have that right," he told reporters.
Testimony on Friday turned on whether the state had a "common standard" to evaluate whether a voter's signature on a petition was valid.
Mosman, though, said the state had supplied enough evidence &
if just barely &
that a common standard existed in all of Oregon's 36 counties.
Lawmakers approved the domestic partnership law last year, alongside another new law that took effect Jan. 1, outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In 2004, about 3,000 same-sex couples were granted marriage licenses in Multnomah County, the largest county in Oregon.
But later that year, Oregon voters approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage. The Oregon Supreme Court nullified the 3,000 licenses as unconstitutional in 2005.
Partnership forms: http:www.oregon.gov/DHS/ph/chs/order/docs/45-6interact.pdf
Judge gives domestic partnership law go-ahead