The A-Z of World Politics #O: Oregon

by Jackie_South on February 21, 2014

File:Flag of Oregon.svgWe have reached the letter O in our A-Z of world politics.

There is of course only one country beginning with O, Oman. There might have been a post in the impact of the Arab Spring there (put down with some lethal force and questionable arrests but not quite to the same extent as Bahrain) but this feels a little dated now.

Or I could have taken a look at Orkney, and its attitude towards Scottish Independence given its complex identity within Scotland. But I have to confess to not knowing enough about Orcadians to do the subject justice (and besides, the Shetlands probably offers a more interesting perspective on the issue).

Whilst I have never visited Oman or the Orkneys, I have been to Oregon twice. There is a lot going for it: stunning scenery and its largest city is one of the most leftwing in the States, so much so that it revels in its nickname of the People’s Republic of Portland. On my last visit there, I got off the train and found a very European-looking streetcar outside the station to take me to my hotel. As I rustled in my pocket for change for the fare, I noticed the sign telling me I need not bother: public transport anywhere in the city centre was free. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

And it is the Friends of Dorothy that are the focus of this post. A decade ago next month, Portland started issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples, with 422 being issued on 3 March 2004.

This was not a cause for much concern in the Rose City, but was extremely unpopular in the state’s conservative east and south. That November, the state voted 57%-43% to ban gay marriage. Portland and the university town of Corvallis voted against the ban whilst the rest of the state backed it.

Fast forward to yesterday. With polls now appearing to show that Oregonians have changed their mind, the state’s Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said that the state will no longer defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage when challenged in a federal law suit“State Defendants will not defend the Oregon ban on same-sex marriage in this litigation … Rather, they will take the position … that the ban cannot withstand a federal constitutional challenge under any standard of review.”

Naturally, social conservatives are frothing at the mouth. Brian Bloom president of the National Organization of Marriage said “she is shamefully abandoning her constitutional duty to defend the marriage amendment overwhelmingly enacted by the people of Oregon. She swore an oath of office that she would enforce all the laws, not just those she personally agrees with.”

That all raises some fascinating legal questions of course. Is an Attorney General bound to uphold a law that may be unconstitutional and apparently no longer commands the support of the state’s citizens? Or does demonstrating that demand for change need a referendum, given that this was how the original statute came about? Is an Attorney General bound to defend (at the state’s great expense) every law passed in a state – would one in the Antebellum South have been duty-bound to defend every ‘right’ of slave-owners?

That’s one for the constitutional lawyers. But for me, I can only praise Rosenblum’s good sense.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

George_East February 22, 2014 at 11:41 pm

It is interesting legally. One way of framing the question would be this: If as AG you are advised that the state’s law is unconstitutional and could not survive a challenge in the federal courts, are you still bound by your oath to uphold the state’s laws to seek to defend it?

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