Editorial: Gay marriage decision reflects human progress

In striking down Oregon’s ban on gay marriage Monday, U.S. District Judge Michael McShane unequivocally affirmed marriage equality and rejected a form of discrimination that has been part of human society throughout history.

It’s a momentous day for Oregon as it joins the fast-developing movement to recognize the rights of same-sex couples to enjoy the same legal protections that heterosexual couples take for granted.

Oregon became the seventh state in which a same-sex marriage ban has been overturned since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year rejecting parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Pennsylvania became No. 8 on Tuesday.

McShane rejected the notion that the state should protect the tradition of heterosexual-only marriage, saying the ban violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He cited multiple examples of ways that civil unions do not provide the same protections and benefits as marriage, even if the distinction were otherwise acceptable.

But McShane also acknowledged the generations of Americans, including his own, that grew up believing homosexuality to be “a moral perversion, a mental disorder, or a mortal sin.” For many, those beliefs were only recently questioned, and the idea that they represent discrimination has been difficult for them to fathom. Only a few years ago, even President Barrack Obama stood firmly against gay marriage.

McShane urged us to see in the plaintiffs “not shadows lurking in closets or the stereotypes of what was once believed; rather we see families committed to the common purpose of love, devotion, and service to the greater community.”

That’s a tall order for those who sincerely believe homosexuality to be wrong, who believe the family is diminished as the concept is widened to embrace same-sex couples. In terms of human history, the change in societal attitudes has been made at lightning speed in the last decade. It will take time for the understanding to spread to all corners of society. Hate must be rejected on all sides.

While we celebrate the immediate result of McShane’s ruling, we wish the decision had been made by the voters, because it would have affirmed the broad shift we have seen in the way many Oregonians view the issue since voters passed the marriage ban in 2004. We also wish the other side of the argument had been represented in McShane’s courtroom. While Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum made a good case for her decision not to defend Oregon’s law, a vigorous defense would have enhanced the credibility of McShane’s decision.

It will be years before the full promise of McShane’s ruling is realized across the nation, with numerous court cases and struggles to come. But someday, we’ll look back and wonder what the fuss was about.