Dozens of couples cheered in the Lane County building Monday morning, smiling and holding hands for the first time as legally recognized couples. Two women stood in a walkway handing out long-stem roses to couples blushing after their new unions, and cameras flashed as families celebrated together.
One poster-board sign read: "Enid and Sally together 20 years," while another one had a red glittery heart in the center and read "Annette + Bec 12 years."
For some the day was a month-long exhale. For others it was a life-long victory.
Hundreds of people and numerous same-sex couples filled the county building on Monday to celebrate the first day the couples could file for a domestic partnership in Oregon. The law was set to be effective on Jan. 2, but the ability to file for one of the state-recognized unions was put on hold until a judge's injunction on the law was lifted late Friday afternoon.
Domestic partnerships grant all of the state rights, responsibilities and protections offered through a marriage contract to gay and lesbian couples, but do not include federal privileges such as joint income taxes or entitlement to social security benefits.
"To imagine some of the protections are in place... it makes me proud to be an Oregonian," said Annette Leonard, a Eugene resident and the diversity coordinator for Lane County. "We're closer and closer, but it's not the same as a marriage because of the lack of federal protections."
Leonard and her partner of 12 years, Rebecca Williams, were the first of 85 couples in Lane County to file for a domestic partnership Monday.
A number of couples at the courthouse have been "out" for most of their lives, and were excited that their relationships are finally recognized by the state.
"People are just jubilant here today. We live in the state -- we work hard and we pay taxes in the state, so it's fabulous that the state is supporting us in turn," said Victoria Smithweiland, a volunteer for the gay and lesbian activist group Basic Rights Oregon.
The local organizer for BRO, Becky Flynn, said a lot of couples had planned for large celebrations such as wedding-style receptions and parties on the Jan. 2 date, but those plans had to be scrapped after a judge put a hold on the law.
U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman delayed the law to determine if a petition to put the domestic partnership issue on the November ballot was legally thrown out by the Secretary of State's Office. He ruled at about 4:20 p.m. Friday that there was no error committed, and allowed same-sex couples to file for the unions.
With only a weekend's notice, Flynn had time to gather volunteers at the courthouse to help partners correctly fill out their domestic partnership forms, hand out T-shirts to volunteers and set up a table full of fruit pies.
Six pies donated by Marie Callender's, from apple to rhubarb to berry, sat on a lavender cloth-draped table off to the side of the bustling crowd. Taped to the table was a sign reading, "Come get your piece of the pie!" a motto that BRO has used throughout their domestic partnership campaign.
"(The sign) represents long-term, committed same-sex couples finally getting a piece of the pie," such as the numerous protections and rights that married couples are granted, Flynn said.
While many gay and lesbian couples lauded Mosman's ultimate decision, there are a few dark clouds on the horizon that have the potential to spoil their celebrations.
The Alliance Defense Fund, the Christian legal group that fought to put the law on the November ballot, has said their lawyers plan to appeal the judge's ruling, which would take the issue to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The signature gatherers that originally tried to pu the domestic partnership law to a public vote have threatened to begin another petition. They would need to gather 75,630 valid signatures by July to put the law on the November ballot. Calls made to the group Restore America, a leading petition group, were not immediately returned to offer any information on a new petition drive.
© 2008 Oregon Daily Emerald via U-WIRE