How We Got Here: A Timeline

Oregon is on the verge of winning the freedom to marry for all loving, committed couples. Let’s talk about how we got to this pivotal moment on marriage and also some of the highlights in our broader work for equality. As you’ll see below, Oregon’s path to marriage goes back more than twenty years – it includes multiple court cases, local victories, legislative battles, statewide votes – all in the larger context of national movement towards affirming the freedom to marry the person you love.

ten years

Over just the last ten years, we’ve had quite a journey. Oregon voters passed Measure 36 in 2004, writing into our constitution that marriage is one man/one woman. Basic Rights Oregon worked with the ACLU to immediately pursue litigation in state court to overturn the amendment, which was ultimately denied in 2009, at that time leaving the ballot as our only viable option. From that point forward, we set our sights on developing the best possible message and approach to build a majority for marriage and along the way we contributed significantly to the national movement. It was in Oregon that we figured out we could no longer focus on rights & responsibilities like taxes and insurance, but rather had to connect to people’s hearts and values by sharing why marriage matters to us all – it’s about love, commitment, and treating others as we would want to be treated.

Following the ballot victories in Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, and Washington in 2012 we made the decision one year ago to forge ahead with our freedom to marry amendment for the 2014 ballot. We launched our effort just one year ago on Valentine’s Day and have spent the last year building support through public education, coalition building, and the launch of Oregon United for Marriage. Oregon United led the volunteer signature effort – hitting the goal of 160,000 signatures in exactly one year. Since that time, we have also joined ACLU in a lawsuit to challenge Measure 36 in federal court.

When this effort kicked into full gear in 2010, support for the freedom to Marry in Oregon stood at 41%; today, thanks to the hard work of our broad coalition and thousands of volunteers, public support is at 55% and growing. A court strategy alone could not have created this type of change.

We are here because of the courage of people all across this state who have called out for fairness, shared their stories, and given generously of their time and money to support Basic Rights Oregon and like-minded partners who are building a movement for justice in Oregon. Our history informs us that creating lasting change requires multiple strategies, an organized movement of people and organizations, and commitment to a shared vision. Whether we ultimately win marriage at the ballot or through the courts, that victory will have come thanks to the work of every Oregonian who has pitched in to help, because we believe in a vision for Oregon that includes all of us.


1993 (filed) – 1998 (decision) —Tanner v. OHSU: Landmark Legal Decision Establishing Relationship Rights in Oregon
Filed in 1993, the ACLU of Oregon assembled this case which marked the beginning of the legal conversation on the rights and recognition of same-sex couples in Oregon. The Tanner case was the first in the nation to decide that government is constitutionally required to recognize domestic partnerships. The Court ruled the Oregon Bill of Rights (Art. I, sec. 20 – Equal Privileges & Immunities) requires all public entities to provide the same benefits to the domestic partners of their gay and lesbian employees that are provided to the spouses of married employees. Basic Rights Oregon was not involved in the case.

1999—Proposed “Defense of Marriage” Amendment Referral
Basic Rights Oregon led the lobbying effort to defeat a proposed Constitutional Amendment for the November 2000 ballot with the help and support of the ACLU. HJR 4 passed the House and was narrowly defeated in the Senate thanks to a bi-partisan coalition that opposed it.

1999—Basic Rights Oregon Legal Group is Established
A group of volunteer lawyers begins to meet with Basic Rights Oregon and two ACLU staff members to develop legal strategies to achieve relationship rights and marriage based on the Tanner decision.

1999—Proposed Ban on trans-inclusive health care coverage in Oregon Health Plan
Basic Rights Oregon worked with 3 moderate Republican legislators to successfully kill this bill in committee.

1999—The City of Ashland Enacts Domestic Partnership Registry

2000—The City of Portland Enacts Domestic Partnership Registry
Basic Rights Oregon Legal Group works with the City of Portland to establish a domestic partnership registry. (7/27/00)

2000—City of Portland Updates Non-discrimination Ordinance
Basic Rights Oregon Legal Group works with the City of Portland to add gender identity to existing non-discrimination ordinance. (12/21/00)

2003—Legislation to Add Gender Identity to the State Hate Crimes Law
Basic Rights Oregon introduced legislation after Loni Okaruru, a trans woman, was murdered in Washington County. The bill was granted a public hearing. Speaker Karen Minnis killed the bill in committee.

2003 The City of Eugene Enacts Domestic Partnership Registry (2/14/03)

2004—Start of San Francisco Marriages
Feb 12 to March 11, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom allows same-sex marriages and spurs national debate. Timing drives Oregon Defense of Marriage Coalition into action. One week later they file Marriage Ban in Oregon.

2004—Defense of Marriage Coalition Files DOMA Initiative(s)
Feb 19, 2004 IP 146 Defense of Marriage Amendment
Feb 19, 2004 IP 147 Affirmation of Marriage Constitutional Amendment
Feb 19, 2004 IP 148 Affirmation of Marriage Act Feb 19, 2004 IP 149 Defense of Marriage Act
Mar 2, 2004 IP 150 Constitutional Definition of Marriage (future M 36)

2004—Multnomah County Marriages Begin
March 3, 2004, Multnomah County legal counsel determines state marriage statute unconstitutional; Legislative Counsel makes similar finding. Benton County temporarily stops issuing marriage licenses to anyone gay or straight until the legal issues can be determined.

2004—Li and Kennedy v. State of Oregon
March 24, 2004, the ACLU, on behalf of nine same-sex couples and Basic Rights Oregon, sued the State of Oregon in Multnomah County Circuit court challenging the Oregon marriage statute that discriminates against same-sex couples by denying them marriage and the rights and protections that come with it.

2004—Measure 36 Qualifies for the Ballot
June 30, 2004

2004—Measure 36 Passes and Oregon’s Constitution is Amended
November 2004 Oregon and ten other states pass bans on marriage at the ballot box, in addition to two other states who did so earlier, making a total of 13 states banning same-sex marriage.

2005—Oregon Supreme Court Voids Oregon Marriages
April 14, 2005 the court declared the case moot based on M36 and invalidated the marriages.

2005—Omnibus Non-Discrimination and Civil Union Legislation
Basic Rights Oregon introduced SB 1000, which was a trans-inclusive omnibus non-discrimination, as well as, civil unions for same-sex couples. The bill passed the Senate but was killed in the House by Speaker Karen Minnis.

2006—Parman v. Oregon
Basic Rights Oregon worked with a lesbian couple treated differently under state law establishing parentage and accurate birth certificates for their children. Case was won.

2007—Oregon Equality Act and Oregon Family Fairness Act
Basic Rights Oregon worked with the Governor’s Office to establish the Oregon Equality Taskforce who forwarded a recommendation to draft legislation on non-discrimination and relationship recognition. Basic Rights Oregon led the lobby effort with a broad coalition (including the ACLU) to pass these two bills into law and the Governor signed them.

2007—Adams v. Edie; Pinkerton/English v. PERS
Basic Rights Oregon Legal Group volunteer attorney represented parties to challenge the Public Employee Retirement System for treating their relationships differently than employees with spouses.

2008—Martinez v. Kulongoski
May of 2008, this case was filed via Basic Rights Oregon’s Legal Advisory Group and ACLU filed an amicus brief seeking to invalidate M36 (Marriage Ban Ballot Measure). Ultimately the case was refused a hearing by the Oregon Supreme Court and the amendment was allowed to stand.(2009)

2009—Expand Oregon’s Anti-Bullying Law
Basic Rights Oregon led the effort with the Safe Schools Coalition to update and improve the state anti-bullying law adding sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill passed both House and Senate and was signed into law.

2010—Groundbreaking Marriage Research
Basic Rights Oregon conducts groundbreaking research that shapes a new message for the marriage movement. This effort is credited by state and national groups as “cracking the code” and is adopted by successful marriage campaigns around the country.

2011—Oregon’s Marriage Public Education Campaign
Basic Rights Oregon continues ongoing statewide education program to build public support for marriage, but state and national leaders that Oregonians are not quite ready to vote for marriage. Basic Rights Oregon decides to extend education campaign.

2012—Four States Win Marriage at Ballot Box
Using the messaging playbook developed in Oregon, marriage campaigns in four other states are able to secure victories at the ballot.

2013—Oregon United for Marriage Launches
Basic Rights Oregon convenes state and national partners and creates the Oregon United for Marriage campaign, kicking off signature gathering for the 2014 ballot in February.

2013 – U.S.A. v. Windsor, Hollingsworth v. Perry
(June) The US Supreme Court rules in the ACLU’s Windsor case that section 2 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the federal constitution. In Perry, the Court allows marriages to go forward in California but does not address whether state bans on marriage violate the 14th Amendment, leaving each state to determine whether same-sex couples can marry. While the Perry and Windsor cases, were dramatic victories for the marriage movement, many legal experts cautioned that the Supreme Court was clearly reluctant to interfere with – or foreclose – the ongoing political debate over marriage in the states.

2013 – Geiger lawsuit filed
October 15, two same-sex couples file a federal lawsuit challenging constitutionality of Measure 36.

2013 – Oregon Attorney General Opinion
October 16, The Oregon Attorney General issued an opinion that the federal constitution requires state agencies to recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions.

2013—Rummell & West v. Kitzhaber filed
December 19, following the A-G opinion and in light of a rapidly changing landscape of legal challenges across the country, Basic Rights Oregon and the ACLU of Oregon file a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Measure 36 on behalf of two more couples and Basic Rights Education Fund.

2014—Heightened Scrutiny Ruling…Game Changer
In January, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rules that sexual orientation discrimination warrants “heightened scrutiny,” giving the marriage litigation another monumental boost. Within weeks, Attorneys General in Oregon and Nevada (both 9th Circuit states) announce they will not defend their respective marriage bans. The Oregon United for Marriage campaign decides it will hold on to marriage petition signatures for a few months in order to allow the court to weigh the pending challenges to Measure 36.