Gay Couples File Federal Suit To Overturn Oregon Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

Lawsuit is separate from 2014 campaign to end Measure 36

Deanna Geiger, left, and Janine Nelson, right, are one of two couples asking a federal judge to overturn Measure 36

Opponents of Oregon's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage have filed a lawsuit in federal court today, asking a judge to overturn it.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene by Portland attorneys Lake Perriguey and Lea Ann Easton on behalf of two gay couples, seeks to have 2004's Measure 36 ruled unconstitutional. It names Gov. John Kitzhaber and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, as well as a few other officials, as defendants.

It argues that one couple—Deanna Geiger and Janine Nelson—should be able to legally marry. The other plaintiffs, Robert Deuhmig and William Griesar, were legally married in Vancouver, B.C., and wish to have their rights recognized in Oregon.

The suit is separate from the anticipated $12 million campaign to overturn Measure 36 being orchestrated by Oregon United for Marriage. Volunteers are collecting signatures to put an initiative on the ballot next year.

Measure 36 was challenged in state courts; the Oregon Supreme Court denied an appeal to hear the case in 2009. Perriguey says that Measure 36 is a federal question because it violates the U.S. Constitution.

"We would like a federal district judge in Oregon to find that there is no rational, legitimate or compelling governmental interest that would allow Oregon's anti-gay constitutional amendment to stand," Perriguey says. "It will not withstand constitutional scrutiny."

Geiger, 54, and Nelson, 53, tell WW they have been together for more than 31 years, and were among the first in line to obtain marriage licenses when same-sex marriage was briefly legalized in Multnomah County. They've faced discrimination their whole relationship, which began when they met working at a camp together.

They even avoided having children because at the time stigma would have been too great. They say they support Oregon United for Marriage's efforts, but also want to see if a legal remedy will see them married in their hometown even quicker. 

"We are trying to go this route to see if perhaps we can get it sooner, but either way we're very supportive of any route," Geiger says. 

As WW has reported, national gay rights organizers have said that they want as many states to approve same-sex marriage via the ballot box as possible, in order to show a groundswell of popular support.

"I believe that securing equal access to marriage in Oregon through a popularity contest or through a federal decision will advance marriage equality nationwide," Perriguey says. "There's nothing guaranteeing a vote will come out in our favor, and there's no guarantee that a legal opinion will come out in our favor. But we're very optimistic."

Oregon United for Marriage says it's aware of the suit and staff has met with Perriguey and Easton about it.

"We share the same goal as the plaintiffs in this case, to make marriage legal for all loving and committed couples in Oregon," spokeswoman Amy Ruiz says. "No one should be denied the freedom to marry the person they love."

WWeek 2015

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