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County supports gay marriage
by: Mara Stine  -  03/03/04
Commissioners agree to support licenses, surprising Roberts

Move over Massachusetts. Step aside San Francisco. Multnomah County may just be the latest to approve gay marriage.
A majority of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners announced Tuesday, March 2, that they support issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

No official action has been taken. Details on the licenses won’t be released until a Wednesday, March 3, press conference. But County Commissioner Lonnie Roberts will be first in line for that information.

Roberts said he didn’t find out about the proposed licenses until late Tuesday, March 2, when he got a 4:15 p.m. phone call from Sheriff Bernie Giusto. “He (Giusto) said he had to supply security at the press conference,” Roberts said.

Roberts, who represents East Multnomah County on the board of commissioners, suspects he may have been kept out of the loop because the other four commissioners knew he wouldn’t support the move.

“I think this was done in a most clandestine way,” Roberts said, adding that such deliberating should have been done in an open meeting complete with public comment.

According to a press release, the possible move toward same-sex marriage licenses is in response to a legal opinion issued Tuesday by the county attorney.

Roberts, however, doesn’t think such licenses are needed. “I think they can create a contract and accomplish the same thing,” Roberts said.

The county’s move toward issuing gay marriage licenses is just the latest on an issue that is grabbing headlines across the country.

Massachusetts is under a court order to start issuing same-sex marriage licenses by May 17.

Last month, San Francisco started granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite a state ban on same-sex marriages approved by voters in 2000.

And last week, President George W. Bush, who has described San Francisco’s actions as municipal disobedience, called for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

In 2000, Multnomah County commissioners created a domestic partner registry designed to give unmarried couples — gay or straight — a way to publicly acknowledge their commitment.

The registry is part of the marriage license office but does not guarantee rights, such as legal guardianship or hospital visitation rights. It can, however, be used by employers who offer domestic partner benefits to verify an employee’s eligibility.

Public employers, including the state, counties and cities, are required to extend benefits to same-sex couples in accordance with a 1998 Oregon State Court of Appeals ruling. The city of Gresham made benefits for city employees in same-sex partnerships available in 1999.

Roberts said he thinks it’s ironic that the commissioners met at the Midland Library branch for about six hours in January for a retreat designed to improve communication among the commissioners.

“I think we failed somewhere,” Roberts said.
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