Oregon Will Recognize Out-of-State Same-Sex Marriages

The Oregon Department of Justice has ruled that all state agencies in Oregon must recognize valid same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, even though same-sex couples cannot get married within the state.

More About the Ruling

Oregon Deputy Attorney General Mary Williams indicated that the ruling was based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s U.S. v. Windsor decision, which struck down a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. She wrote that not recognizing marriages conducted in other jurisdictions after the Supreme Court’s decision “would likely violate the federal Constitution.”

The Department of Justice decided that it would be legally indefensible for Oregon to recognize out-of-state marriages from opposite-sex couples while refusing to recognize those from same-sex couples.

How Things Have Changed in Oregon

In response to the ruling, Michael Jordan, the chief operating officer for the state government, sent a memo to all state agency directors advising them of the new policy. Oregon agencies must now recognize valid same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries for the purposes of administering state programs and extending benefits, including medical benefits and tax exemptions.

The ruling actually has little impact on the tax status of same-sex couples in Oregon because the 2007 Oregon Family Fairness Act allowed Oregon domestic partners to file their taxes jointly, as if they were married.

Now, however, there is one less step involved – same-sex married couples don’t need to register as domestic partners when they move to Oregon. The same goes for same-sex couples that live in Oregon and go across state lines to get married. All such marriages will now be recognized by the state.

The decision changes things for same-sex married couples that live other states but file Oregon taxes because they own real estate or have businesses in Oregon. Same-sex married couples aren’t allowed to register as domestic partners in Oregon if they don’t reside there, but now they will receive marriage benefits on their state taxes, which they couldn’t get before the ruling.

What’s Next for Oregon?

There is still a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Oregon – the Oregon constitution defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman – so same-sex couples can’t get married in the state. But the Justice Department’s ruling seems to place Oregon’s constitutional ban on shaky ground, and opponents of the ban hope to have it overturned with a ballot measure in 2014. We’ll keep a close eye on Oregon and update our site as the same-sex marriage laws continue to develop over the next year.

To learn more about same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues, go to Nolo’s LGBT Law center.