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Oregon AG won’t defend marriage ban in court

Says law cannot withstand scrutiny ‘under any standard of review’

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Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon, gay news, Washington Blade
Ellen Rosenblum, Oregon, gay news, Washington Blade

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum won’t defend her state’s marriage ban in court. (Photo public domain)

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced on Thursday she won’t defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage against a legal challenge, saying the law cannot withstand judicial scrutiny “under any standard of review.”

Meanwhile, the campaign led by Oregon United for Marriage to bring marriage equality to the state via ballot measure in November says it is holding the surplus of signatures already collected pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

In a seven-page legal filing, Rosenblum says the state largely agrees with the contentions against the ban on same-sex marriage raised by plaintiffs in the case, known as Rummel v. Kitzhaber.

“State Defendants will not defend the Oregon ban on same-sex marriage in this litigation,” Rosenblum concludes. “Rather, they will take the position in their summary judgment briefing that the ban cannot withstand a federal constitutional challenge under any standard of review.”

A Democrat elected to office in 2012, Rosenblum’s decision is along the lines of her earlier determination in October that Oregon should respect same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

Among the allegations that Rosenblum says the state won’t dispute in the lawsuit is the assertion that domestic partnerships, which Oregon has allowed since 2008, aren’t the equivalent of marriage.

“State Defendants admit that performing same-sex marriages in Oregon would have no adverse effect on existing marriages, and that sexual orientation does not determine an individual’s capacity to establish a loving and enduring relationship,” Rosenblum writes. “State Defendants likewise admit that domestic partnership registration confers many legal protections but not all of the rights, obligations, and privileges associated with marriage.”

Her decision not to defend the ban is consistent with the position of Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto. Both Nevada and Oregon lie in the Ninth Circuit, where the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided heightened scrutiny applies to laws related to sexual orientation in the case of SmithKline v. Abbott Laboratories.

Notably, Rosenblum never mentions the SmithKline decision or legal precedent for heightened scrutiny in announcing her decision that she won’t defend Oregon’s ban. Instead, she concludes the law fails under any standard of review.

Thomas Wheatley, director of organizing at Freedom to Marry and an adviser to Oregon United for Marriage, praised Rosenblum.

“Attorney General Rosenblum is right in refusing to waste taxpayers’ dollars by defending the indefensible anti-marriage law in Oregon,” Wheatley said. “Rosenblum is joined by other attorneys general from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Nevada; and even Republican Governor Brian Sandoval in Nevada, who all came to the same conclusion that the state cannot in good conscience defend a law denying committed same-sex couples the freedom to marry.”

Brian Brown, president of the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, nonetheless criticized Rosenblum for what he said was abandoning her constitutional duties.

“Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is shamefully abandoning her constitutional duty to defend the marriage amendment overwhelmingly enacted by the people of Oregon,” Brown said. “She swore an oath of office that she would enforce all the laws, not just those she personally agrees with. The people are entitled to a vigorous defense of the laws they enact, and the marriage amendment is no exception to that solemn obligation.”

The case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon before U.S. District Judge Michael McShane, who’s gay and among the handful of openly gay federal judges serving on the federal bench. Oral arguments in the case are set for April 23.

Legal experts say the Ninth Circuit precedent for applying heightened scrutiny to matters related to sexual orientation bodes well for rulings in favor of marriage equality within this jurisdiction.

Campaign holding signatures for ballot initiative

At the same time the litigation is advancing, LGBT activists were preparing to bring the issue to the ballot once more in 2014 to reverse the ban and legalize same-sex marriage in Oregon.

Mike Marshall, campaign manager for Oregon United for Marriage, announced following Rosenblum’s decision that his campaign has already collected 160,000 signatures — more than the 116,284 needed by July 3 to qualify the measure for the ballot — but is placing those efforts on hold pending the outcome of the federal lawsuit.

“Now that we have done the hard work of assuring a place on the ballot and moving public opinion, we have the ability to wait for the courts to do the right thing,” Marshall said. “No one is interested in engaging in an expensive political campaign if we don’t have to. We have more than 4,000 volunteers across Oregon to thank for that.”

Meanwhile, Oregon United for Marriage is planning a statewide tour for the first two weeks of March to talk to supporters of same-sex marriage about the campaign’s next steps.

In 2004, Oregon voters approved at the ballot a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage with 57 percent of the vote. But public opinion has since changed. According to a poll unveiled Thursday by Oregon United for Marriage, 55 percent of likely November voters support same-sex marriage while 41 percent are opposed.

As preparations for the marriage initiative are underway, Oregon anti-gay groups are working to place on the ballot a religious exemption initiative on the ballot that would carve out a portion of state civil rights law to allow businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Marshall said he’s prepared for a campaign against the anti-gay measure regardless of what happens with the marriage initiative.

“At a moment when Oregonians should be celebrating the imminent end of discrimination against loving, committed couples—we’re gearing up to fight another effort to write discrimination back into our laws,” Marshall said.

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District of Columbia

Bernie Delia, attorney, beloved Capital Pride organizer, dies at 68

Activist worked at Justice Department, White House as attorney

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Bernie Delia (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Bernie Delia, a founding member of the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes most D.C. LGBTQ Pride events, and who served most recently as co-chair of World Pride 2025, which D.C. will be hosting next June, died unexpectedly on Friday, June 21, according to a statement released by Capital Pride Alliance. He was 68.

“It is with great sadness that the Capital Pride Alliance mourns the passing of Bernie Delia,” the statement says. “We will always reflect on his life and legacy as a champion, activist, survivor, mentor, friend, leader, and a true inspiration to the LGBTQ+ community.”

The statement says that in addition to serving six years as the Capital Pride Alliance board president, Delia served for several years as president of Dignity Washington, the local LGBTQ Catholic organization, where he helped create “an environment for spiritual enrichment during the height of the AIDS epidemic.”

“He also had a distinguished legal career, serving as one of the first openly gay appointees at the U.S. Department of Justice and later as an appellate attorney,” the statement reads.

Delia’s LinkedIn page shows that he worked at the U.S. Department of Justice for 26 years, serving as an assistant U.S. attorney from 2001 to 2019. Prior to that, he served from 1997 to 2001 as associate deputy attorney general and from 1994 to 1997 served as senior counsel to the director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, which provides executive and administrative support for 93 U.S. attorneys located throughout the country.

His LinkedIn page shows he served from January-June 1993 as deputy director of the Office of Presidential Personnel during the administration of President Bill Clinton, in which he was part of the White House staff. And it shows he began his career as legal editor of the Bureau of National Affairs, which published news reports on legal issues, from 1983-1993.

The Capital Pride Alliance statement describes Delia as “an avid runner who served as the coordinator of the D.C. Front Runners and Stonewall Kickball LGBTQ sports groups.”

“He understood the value, purpose, and the urgency of the LGBTQ+ community to work together and support one another,” the statement says. “He poured his soul into our journey toward World Pride, which was a goal of his from the start of his involvement with Capital Pride.”

The statement adds, “Bernie will continue to guide us forward to ensure we meet this important milestone as we gather with the world to be visible, heard, and authentic. We love you, Bernie!”

In a statement posted on social media, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she and her administration were “heartbroken” over the news of Delia’s passing.

“Bernie leaves behind an incredible legacy in our city and country — through his life and advocacy, he helped pave a path for LGBTQIA+ residents in our city and within the federal government to live and work openly and proudly,” the mayor says in her statement.

“He helped transform Capital Pride into one of the largest and most inclusive Pride celebrations in the nation — a true reflection and representation of our people and values,” the statement says. “This is the D.C. that Bernie helped build and that he leaves behind.”

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Africa

Prominent South African activist elected to country’s parliament

Steve Letsike founded Access Chapter 2

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Steve Letsike (Photo courtesy of Steve Letsike)

A prominent South African LGBTQ activist has won a seat in the country’s parliament.

Steve Letsike, a lesbian woman who founded Access Chapter 2, a South African advocacy group, is a member of the African National Congress. She is also part of the ANC’s National Executive Committee that determines the party’s direction.

Letsike won a seat in the South African National Assembly in national and provincial elections that took place on May 29.

The ANC lost its parliamentary majority that it had had since Nelson Mandela in 1994 won the South African presidency in the country’s first post-apartheid elections. MPs earlier this month re-elected President Cyril Ramaphosa after the ANC invited the Democratic Alliance and other parties to form a Government of National Unity.

Letsike in a statement to the Washington Blade described her election as “a milestone for the people of South Africa, and also affirmative of our party’s posture that is inclusive and intention to transformation agenda.”

“I am not in parliament for myself but the people that trusted the ANC to send individuals that will put people first,” said Letsike. “In that cohort that includes the LGBTI people like myself. Rooted in the teaching of a just society, that seeks equality and believes in the rule of law. That demand on developmental agenda from a queer lens and clear priorities of the people is important.” 

“I am delighted by this task, trust and hope for our people,” she added.

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The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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