SALEM, Oregon (AP) -- The Oregon Supreme Court on Thursday nullified nearly 3,000 marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples by Multnomah County a year ago, saying a single county couldn't take such action on its own.
The court said while the county can question the constitutionality of laws governing marriage, they are a matter of statewide concern so the county had no authority to issue licenses to gay couples.
The court noted that last November, Oregonians approved a constitutional amendment that limits marriages to a man and a woman. The court also said that long before that vote, state law had set the same limitations on marriages since Oregon became a state.
"Today, marriage in Oregon -- an institution once limited to opposite-sex couples only by statute -- now is so limited by the state Constitution as well," the court ruling said.
The court left the door open for state legislators to craft an alternative to gay marriages, such as civil unions.
"We conclude that Oregon law currently places the regulation of marriage exclusively within the province of the state's legislative power," the court said.
Tim Nashif, head of the Oregon Family Council and the Defense of Marriage Coalition, said, "We're pretty thrilled and pretty relieved at the opinion."
Members of the Legislature have been awaiting the ruling to give them guidance on how to proceed on the issue, and just Wednesday, Gov. Ted Kulongoski said he will push for a law allowing gay couples to form civil unions.
Marte Sheehan, who married Linda Duchek last March, said she was disappointed with the ruling but had hopes the Legislature would pass a bill allowing civil unions.
"I believe that ultimately the Legislature will do the right thing," she said.
Multnomah County, which includes much of Portland and is the state's most populous county, began issuing marriages to gay couples last April, arguing that not doing so violated the state Constitution. A judge ordered the practice to cease about six weeks later, but not before nearly 3,000 same-sex couples had wed.
Vermont is the first and still the only state to offer civil unions to gays, passing a law in 2000. Massachusetts has allowed gay marriage since last May. Both those changes came about after court rulings. In Connecticut, the state House passed legislation Wednesday that would make it the second state to establish same-sex civil unions
Multnomah County's move last year was one of a flurry of similar ones after San Francisco started issuing same-sex marriage licenses on February 12, 2004. San Francisco's spree of gay weddings also was shut down by the courts, though a related constitutional challenge brought by gay rights activists is still pending.
"Two West Coast liberal states now, both California and Oregon, have both said that local governments don't have authority to take the law into their own hands," said Kelly Clark, the attorney for the Defense of Marriage Coalition. "It certainly sends a signal to the rest of the country."
i am so upset! our laws did not say that marriage equals a man and a woman, it said nothing at all about it, someone just presumed it. and i thought we were supposed to be blue. not really, but more half and half with a democratic leaning. now we follow the frickin bible belt? i just really hope that when the supreme court holds the hearings they are doing about gay marriage they rule in favor of it and legalize it. they won't, but i hope they do. the u.s. is really acting like a bunch of ignorants here. suddenly i don't really like this state. or this country. bigotry rulz.