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Like people in most states, Oregon residents have mixed opinions on the issue of same-sex marriage. Oregon law reflects this division. On one hand, Oregon has an amendment to the state Constitution that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, effectively banning same-sex marriage. On the other hand, same-sex couples in the state can achieve many of the same rights and recognition that straight, married couples have by getting a legally recognized civil union.

DOMA hearings and presidential support

The legal framework around same-sex marriage may change, now that the President has thrown his support behind the issue. After announcing his support of for same-sex marriage, President Obama suggested that the federal government might take a more active role to codify same-sex marriage rights. These efforts could particularly affect states like Oregon that have somewhat complicated marriage laws.

In addition, a recent U.S. Supreme Court hearing on the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act could change the rights afforded to same-sex couples in Oregon. The act, more commonly known as “DOMA,” prohibits the federal government from granting legal recognition to same-sex marriages. As part of the hearing on DOMA, the Obama Administration’s Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. argued that states such as Oregon that recognize civil unions but not same-sex marriages should be required to recognize marriages between two persons of the same sex.

During that same week, Supreme Court also held hearings on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8. Similar to Oregon’s amendment, this proposition banned gay marriage in Oregon’s southern neighbor in November 2008. If “Prop 8,” as it is known, is deemed unconstitutional, the legality of other state constitutional amendments could also be in question. The Supreme Court’s decision could also give support to an upcoming Oregon ballot initiative that seeks to repeal the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Where to go from here

The Supreme Court’s rulings could end up being extremely significant for same-sex couples not only in Oregon but throughout the United States as a whole. If DOMA is repealed, federal benefits may be accessible to anyone legally married under state law. Currently, marriage does not confer federal benefits on same-sex partners, even if their marriage is valid in their state. In addition, an overturning of Prop 8 could lead to legal challenges against same-sex marriage bans across the country.

Same-sex marriage laws are currently in a state of flux, and civil union laws create complicated arrangements that are different in nearly every state that allows them. In Oregon, same-sex couples who are entering into or dissolving a civil union would be wise to seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney. An experienced attorney can help the couple protect their rights and ensure that they are treated as fairly as possible.

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