Oregon’s attorney general, Ellen Rosenblum, a Democrat, has taken the unusual step of asking a federal court to throw out a law passed by Oregon voters on the grounds that the law is legally indefensible. Based on that standard, the voter-approved law on marriage would not be the only law that the attorney general could refuse to defend.
In 2004 Oregon voters defined “marriage” as the union of one man and one woman. That had been understood to be the definition before, but it wasn’t nailed down. In recent years several federal courts, listening to a shift in public opinion, have found that this definition serves no legitimate government purpose and therefore violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution. The outcome of the Oregon cases now pending, which Rosenblum declines to contest, will no doubt be the same.
“The ban on same-sex marriage serves no rational purpose and harms Oregon citizens,” Rosenblum’s lawyers wrote. But Oregon recognizes civil unions, which are the same as marriages in all but name, so it’s hard to believe that the existing “marriage” definition does anybody any tangible harm.
And what about other laws? We have, for example, the legal ban on people pumping their own fuel at gas stations open to the public. That law is still popular, but it costs consumers time and serves no rational purpose either, a fact that is demonstrated uncounted times a day every time someone fills up in any of 48 states.
Also in the transportation realm, there is no rational purpose for ticketing drivers for exceeding the 20-mph school-zone speed limit when all the children and teachers are safely inside their building a quarter-mile away. And the harm to drivers being penalized is obvious.
What rational purpose is there for the laws banning plastic shopping bags at some stores but not others? Or how rational are laws mandating certain kinds of renewable energy sources but excluding hydropower as the most renewable source of all? What legitimate government interest is served by raising the price consumers must pay for either bags or electricity?
And while we’re talking “rational purpose,” on what grounds would the state limit civil unions or marriages to two people when the economies of scale suggest that maintaining a household or supervising children would be more efficient — leaving more time for politics or even art — if the number of participating adults was three or four? (hh)