SALEM - Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced Thursday the state will not defend Oregon's ban on same-sex marriages.
There must be a "rational basis" for a government to establish "different sets of rules or laws for different sets of people" under the U.S. Constitution, she said.
The law in this area is developing, she continued, and it's clear "there is no rational basis for Oregon to refuse to honor the commitments made by same-sex couples in the same way it honors the commitments of opposite-sex couples."
Rosenblum's remarks come after two lawsuits, which have been consolidated, challenged the state's constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
Oregon voters approved a ban on gay marriages in 2004. Last year, the state said it would recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Because it's the state attorney general's job to uphold the state's constitution, Rosenblum said, it was not a decision made lightly.
"Marriage is the way that loving couples become family to each other and to their extended families, and there is no good reason to exclude same-sex couples from marriage in Oregon, or from having their marriages recognized here," she said.
Rosenblum said more legal analysis would be released in April. But she wanted to give notice to both the public and the judge that the state "cannot identify a valid reason for the state to prevent the couples who have filed these lawsuits from marrying in Oregon, we find ourselves unable to stand before (the federal judge) to defend the state's prohibition against marriages between two men or two women."
The group Oregon United for Marriage also announced it has enough signatures to qualify a measure legalizing same-sex marriages on the November 2014 ballot.
But Mike Marshall, the group's campaign manager, said now that both those challenging the state's ban and those expected to defend it appear to be on the same side, he's not sure a ballot measure will be absolute. It will depend on the judge's decision, he said. Marshall said he's confident the judge will "stand on the right side of the history." And the goal is to get the freedom to marry, whether that's through the courts or the ballot box.
"If the judge rules today that the ban is wrong, that's great because it is wrong," he said. "Nobody's marriage should be up for a vote. We pursued the vote because a year ago, there seemed to be no other path forward."
If the group does not move forward with the ballot measure, Marshall said, they would switch focus.
There is currently a group working toward putting together an initiative that would give businesses the right to opt out of providing services, such as photography, cakes, or flowers, for same-sex marriages without fear of a discrimination lawsuit being filed against them.
The group is working to put the measure on the November 2014 ballot.
"There are citizens that have conscientious objections to same-sex marriage ceremonies," said Shawn Lindsay, a former state representative who is serving as legal counsel for the group. Whether it's religious or personal beliefs, he added, they should not be penalized for discrimination.
And so, Marshall said, if the judge ruled the same-sex ban was unconstitutional, his group would "switch to defending marriage."
The Oregon Family Council issued a statement Thursday, saying the attorney general was not elected "to pick and choose what laws she would defend based on her own political ideologies. Oregonians expect their Attorney General to defend the laws of the state duly enacted by the people regardless of their personal beliefs."
They called the decision "an outright attack on democracy and the legitimacy of the judicial system for a duly enacted constitutional amendment by the people to have no defense in federal court."