Benton County halts issuing all marriage licenses

Commissioners back off same-sex license plans – and go step further

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Benton County commissioners reversed course – and then some – on Monday, deciding not only to hold off issuing same-sex marriage licenses, but to stop issuing all marriage licenses, pending a court ruling on whether gay marriages are legal.

Benton County commissioners had voted 2-1 last week to issue same-sex marriage licenses, starting this Wednesday, after hearing about 3 1/2 hours of testimony and reviewing five legal opinions. They would have been the second county to do so, after Multnomah County commissioners began issuing hundreds of same-sex marriage licenses a few weeks ago.

Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers had threatened to sue Benton County if it proceeded as planned. The same step didn’t happen against Multnomah County due to the talks that led to an agreement late last week for an expedited test lawsuit on the matter.

At an emergency meeting Monday, Benton County (www.co.benton.or.us) commissioners voted to postpone issuing any marriage licenses – not just to same-sex couples – pending resolution of the Multnomah County case. Linda Modrell, chairwoman of the Benton County Commission, said that’s expected before the end of April, and asked for “the public’s patience with this temporary inconvenience.”

Myers issued a statement Monday, saying he was “very pleased” with the decision by Benton County commissioners.

“I thank the commissioners for delaying action, now that we have agreed on expedited proceedings in Multnomah County,” Myers said. “It is my sincere hope that legal process will provide clarity for each of Oregon’s counties.”

Benton County’s decision to delay issuing all marriage licenses was applauded by the group Basic Rights Oregon, but drew fire from the Defense of Marriage Coalition, which claimed the step “makes a mockery of traditional marriage.”

“We are happy that Benton County is not going to violate the law by issuing illegal marriage licenses, but we are perplexed as to why they would not continue to issue legal marriage licenses,” said Tim Nashif of the coalition.

Refusing “a legal marriage license to a man and a woman … would be an invitation to a lawsuit,” Nashif said. “It is sad that activist politicians would continue to use the institution of marriage as a political tool.”