June 20 2019
SALEM, Oregon - Gay rights activists launched a campaign today to urge Oregonians to reverse their vote of five years ago and support same-sex marriage. Basic Rights Oregon, the state's largest gay rights group, aims to put on the Oregon ballot as early as 2012 an initiative asking voters to lift the constitutional ban on gay and lesbian marriage that passed in 2004. The goal is "to allow same-sex couples to legally marry in this state," said Jeana Frazzini, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon "There is no substitute for the respect and dignity that comes with marriage." But Basic Rights can expect fierce resistance from the Oregon Family Council, the church-backed group that successfully ran the Measure 36 campaign in 2004 to ban same-sex marriage in the state constitution, said Tim Nashif, the council's political director. "We're going to fight it, and we'll fight it just as hard now as we did in 2004," he said. "I don't think Oregonians are going to overturn Measure 36," which defines marriage as a bond between only a man and a woman. Oregon gay activists have been buoyed by victories in the Legislature and the legalization of same-sex marriage in six states – Massachusetts, Iowa, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire.
The 2007 Legislature passed laws to protect gay Oregonians from discrimination in housing, work and public places and to establish domestic partnerships that give same-sex couples most of the state protections and responsibilities of marriage. Oregon has registered 3,196 of the state's 12,700 gay and lesbian couples for domestic partnerships. Elections in two states Tuesday will reveal more about the nation's political support for same-sex unions. Voters will decide whether to support Maine's law legalizing same-sex marriage and whether to uphold Washington's domestic partnership law. Basic Rights will kick off the first phase of a public education campaign with rallies Monday night in Portland, Tuesday night in Bend and Wednesday evening in Eugene. The group will encourage gay and lesbian couples to reach out to their neighbors in a conversation on "why marriage matters and how it impacts their daily lives to be excluded from the freedom to marry," said Frazzini. The group expects to send representatives to speak to churches and civic groups, she said, and it has hired two organizers who will travel the state and make 1,000 short, two-minute videos featuring gay and lesbian Oregonians talking about why marriage is important to them. The videos will be posted on various web sites and e-mailed to residents. Evan Wolfson, founder and executive director of Freedom to Marry, a New York City-based organization fighting for same-sex marriage, will speak at all of the Basic Rights kick-off events. Marriage "is one of the most important statements we make about who we are," he said. "It is so important to commitment and love that most people wear the symbol of it on their hands."
People's attitudes about gay marriage change when they know gay couples, he said. President Bill Clinton offers a good example, Wolfson said. Clinton signed the 1996 federal Defense Of Marriage Act , which recognizes marriage only between a man and a woman, even if states support same-sex marriage. Now Clinton supports the act's repeal and states' rights to legalize same-sex marriage. "I was wrong," Clinton said. "I just had too many gay friends. I saw their relationships." Gay and lesbian couples say that marriage would give them a level of social status and practical benefits that still elude them under the state's domestic partnership law. Patrick Halloran, 56, Portland, said he saw how a domestic partnership falls short of marriage in April when a nurse unlawfully drove him from the bedside of his partner, Christopher "Topher" Rodriguez. His partner was on a respirator in intensive care at Oregon Health & Science University hospital, gravely ill from complications related to AIDS. With quick legal help, Halloran soon won access to his partner and an apology from the nurse, who didn't realize that a domestic partnership gave Patrick the same hospital rights as a spouse. Rodriguez died 13 days later. "He could very well have died (during) the time I was out of the room," Halloran said.
He said he probably wouldn't' have been ordered out of the room if he and his partner were married. People understand marriage, he said, but they're less clear about domestic partnerships. Becky Blumer, 36, who works for a Portland volunteer group, said that even her mother doesn't seem to understand what a domestic partnership means. She and her partner, Kate Molony, 32, a high school English teacher, have been together six years. "We're not roommates or just hanging out," Blumer said. "She is my longtime partner. Marriage legitimizes a relationship in a way that a piece of paper or going to an attorney doesn't." Basic Rights has every right to try to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage, but the Oregon Family Council will fight any attempt to redefine marriage as any union but that between a man and a woman, Nashif said. "To redefine marriage is a radical perspective," he said, and one that most people oppose. But Wolfson of Freedom to Marry said he sees growing political momentum in support of same-sex marriage, especially among young voters.