Same-sex couples who legally wed in other states will now be recognized by the state of Oregon — further fallout from this summer's Supreme Court ruling striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Oregon Chief Operating Officer and Director of Administrative Services Michael Jordan issued a memo to state agencies Wednesday ordering the recognition of all legal marriages performed outside of the state — including the marriages of same-sex couples.
"Oregon agencies must recognize all out-of-state marriages for the purposes of administering state programs," Jordan states in the memo. "That includes legal, same sex marriages performed in other states and countries."
Married couples from out of state can now access benefits afforded by the state, Department of Administrative Services spokesman Matt Shelby told BuzzFeed. The change has no impact on the ability of same-sex couples to marry in the state, although a lawsuit filed this week aims to overturn the constitutional amendment that bans such marriages.
"Anywhere there is an opportunity for an agency to deal with a married couple as a unit, there are specified rights that go along with that and those will now be extended to same-sex couples married in other states," Shelby said. "If you think about all of the places where a state agency touches a married couple, income taxes, or filing a business, or — there's a multitude of things."
Jordan's memo cites a legal opinion from the Oregon Department of Justice, which reviewed the impact on state agencies of recent rulings regarding treatment of same-sex couples' relationships from the U.S. Supreme Court, particularly the United States v. Windsor opinion striking down the federal ban on recognizing same-sex couples' marriages in DOMA.
"In short, [the DOJ opinion] basically says that for years the state has recognized out-of-state marriages for the purpose of administrative programs and recognizing marriages that are legal in some states, but not Oregon. For example, common law marriages. " Shelby said. "They just applied that same logic to same-sex couples getting married."
In light of the Supreme Court rulings, Oregon officials found that federal agencies were treating some couples differently than state agencies were — a change that opened the state up to legal liabilities, Shelby said.
"We would have to make the case for recognizing one over the other and that's not an argument I think we'd win," he told BuzzFeed.
The memo does not allow same-sex couples to legally wed in the state. Shelby said full marriage equality in Oregon is a conversation the state will need to have, but that Jordan's decision sets up "an interesting dynamic" because "[t]hings are moving so quickly in the larger context." Oregon, he noted, is sandwiched between two states with legal marriage for same-sex couples, Washington to the north and California to the south.
Marriage equality proponents in Oregon are attempting to take down the state's constitutional ban on equal marriage through both a 2014 ballot initiative and a legal challenge in federal court.