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Oregon won’t defend gay-marriage ban in lawsuit

February 20, 2014

PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) — Oregon’s attorney general will not defend the state’s ban on gay marriage, joining the top lawyers in at least five other U.S. states who have made similar decisions.

In documents filed in federal court on Thursday, Ellen Rosenblum argued Oregon’s ban cannot withstand a federal constitutional challenge.

Attorneys filed a lawsuit in October on behalf of two women who have been in a relationship for more than 30 years and another couple who sought to have their union recognized in Oregon. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit two months later on behalf of two same-sex couples.

Such lawsuits often have argued that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violates the due process and equal protection rights of same-sex couples.

Nationally, attorneys general in five states — Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois and Nevada — have declined to defend same-sex marriage bans against lawsuits filed by gay couples, while a sixth, in New Mexico, challenged longstanding legal interpretations that said such unions were impermissible there.

The legal landscape in the U.S. for gay marriage has rapidly shifted in recent years. In a movement that began in 2004, 17 states plus the Washington capital district now allow gay marriage.

Momentum especially surged after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year to strike down part of a federal law that prevented the government from recognizing same-sex marriages. Recently, an appeals court found that gays and lesbians cannot be precluded from jury duty because of their sexual orientation. That ruling extended civil rights protections to gays that the Supreme Court previously promised only to women and racial minorities.

The two decisions create an atmosphere in which Rosenblum and other attorneys general believe will make defenses of gay-marriage bans unlikely to succeed.

The Democrat running for Colorado attorney general called on the current Republican officeholder to stop defending the state’s prohibition. In Texas, Democratic candidate for governor Wendy Davis demanded that her likely Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, do the same.

Gay marriage supporters in Oregon celebrated Rosenblum’s statement Thursday. But gay marriage opponents, including the National Organization of Marriage, said Rosenblum is shirking her duties as the top lawyer for her state.

“She swore an oath of office that she would enforce all the laws, not just those she personally agrees with,” said Brian Brown, the group’s president.

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Reach reporter Nigel Duara on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nigelduara

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