PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Although it's still not legal for same-sex couples to marry in Oregon, the state is now recognizing the marriages of those who tie the knot in another state or country.
In a memo sent to state agencies Wednesday, state Chief Operating Officer Michael Jordan said same-sex couples married in places where it is legal are immediately eligible for the same benefits as other married couples.
"It's pretty wide ranging if you think about all the places where a married couple could interact with a state agency," said Matt Shelby, spokesman for the Department of Administrative Services. "Whether it is income taxes or filing a business or the other multitude of places where a married couple would have some rights or responsibilities, this decision could affect those interactions."
Jordan's decision, first reported by the Willamette Week newspaper, was based on a legal opinion from the Oregon Department of Justice. The opinion was sought by Jordan because the U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated portions of the Defense of Marriage Act meant federal agencies operating in Oregon could be dealing with same-sex couples differently than state agencies.
The Internal Revenue Service, for example, determined that legally married same-sex couples can file joint federal tax returns even if they lives in states that do not recognize such unions. And the Labor Department said same-sex couples have the same federal rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to employee benefits such as pensions and 401(k)s.
The state DOJ opinion written by Deputy Attorney General Mary H. Williams describes how Oregon courts have consistently recognized valid out-of-state marriages, even when the marriage could not be performed here, such as a common-law marriage. Moreover, she said prohibiting out-of-state gay marriages would likely violate the federal constitution.
"We cannot identify any defensible state interest, much less a legitimate or compelling one, in refusing to recognize marriages performed between consenting, unrelated adults under the laws of another state," Williams wrote.
State officials do not have an estimate for how many same-sex couples married in other states reside in Oregon. Gay marriage is legal in neighboring California and Washington.
Oregon voters decided in 2004 to amend the state constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. An initiative to overturn the ban is a virtual lock to be on the 2014 ballot.