Ten years ago, marriage equality was the right thing to do.

By Lisa Naito of Portland, Oregon. From 1998 to 2008, Naito served on the Multnomah County Commission. She has also served in the Oregon Legislature and on Metro Council. Learn more at Hooley & Naito.

Ten years ago today, couples lined up around the Multnomah Building in southeast Portland to wait in line to be married. Same-sex couples drove from all over Oregon and beyond to come to Portland to have the opportunity to marry, a right taken for granted by everyone else. I had the opportunity to witness the historic first weddings and they were moving celebrations of love and commitment. On that first day, over 400 couples were married. One couple had been together for 47 years and they were filled with joy at the prospect of being treated fully as citizens in their lifetime.

I stood together with fellow Commissioners Maria Rojo de Steffey and Serena Cruz Walsh to support the decision of Chair Diane Linn to grant marriage equality. It was the right thing to do, both morally and legally. Our actions were based on a solid legal opinion issued by our County Attorney Agnes Sowle that the privileges and immunities clause of the Oregon constitution required us to treat same-sex couples equally under the law. Charlie Hinkle of Stoel Rives, one of the top constitutional lawyers in Oregon, issued a second opinion in agreement with the County Attorney. Shortly thereafter, Benton County also issued marriage licenses to same sex couples with the brave decision of Commissioners Annabelle Jaramillo and Linda Modrell for marriage equality.

The backlash was immediate and shocking. People called our offices using abusive language with our staff, personal threats were made against us and I was concerned about the safety of my high school age son, telling him to look out as he came home from school. On the political front, the leading newspaper called us unfit for public office, and recall campaigns against us were started by opponents of marriage equality.

The early court decisions were in favor of equality. Judge Frank Bearden issued the first court ruling in the country to fully recognize marriage licenses for same sex couples. He ordered the State of Oregon to register the marriage licenses of the thousands of couples who had applied for them. Unfortunately, the Oregon Supreme Court, while not ruling on the issue of the constitutionality of a discriminatory law limiting marriage, did issue a ruling that marriage law was a state issue. They closed the door on marriage equality at the county level.

Some people have criticized us for a faulty “process” and blamed us for the passage of Measure 36. However, opponents of marriage equality had already been organizing for months to pass a ballot measure. Elevven states had ballot measures that election year limiting marriage to a man and a woman. All the measures passed. It was a national campaign targeting gays and lesbians. Additionally, Measure 36 failed in Multnomah County, so it could be argued that hearts and minds changed in our community after witnessing couples marry.

Oregon will soon have marriage equality... again. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s decision not to defend Oregon’s marriage ban because it will not withstand a federal constitutional challenge means it is just a matter of time for Oregon. We have an awesome Attorney General!

As an elected official, I took an oath of office to uphold the Constitutions of the United States and Oregon. That is what I did ten years ago. Discrimination was unconstitutional back then, just as it is now. In 2004 I wrote, “I know that history will prove our actions to be right and just.” I believe it has.

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