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Friday, March 26, 2004  

News: Gay marriage kettle boils in Oregon

I have been trying to do play by play coverage of the ongoing controversy over gay marriage in Oregon. But, the players and plays change day by day, sometimes hour by hour. This is one flavorful kettle of fish. I'll summarize what has occurred since my last entry on the topic at Mac-a-ro-nies.

I blogged Benton County's decision to become the second in Oregon to grant gays marriage licenses. The county has now delayed issuing marriage licenses to homosexuals. Instead, Benton County will wait until there is a ruling on whether refusal to marry gays violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution. Meanwhile, no couples will be granted marriage licenses. Yes, I said no couples. Heterosexuals will also have to wait, surely not the intention of conservatives who flooded the Benton County commissioners with emails and phone calls opposing the plan to grant licenses to gays.

Multnomah County continues to issue licenses and gay couples continue to marry. Data show that many of those tying the knot are from out of state. Some traveled significant distances to reach the only jurisdiction in the country allowing homosexuals to marry. The Associated Press found that sixteen percent of the couples came from a state other than Oregon during the first week alone. With Oregon the only place to go, the proportion has likely increased.

Opinion polls reveal a continuing increase in Oregonians opposed to gay marriage, even as the vows are spoken. The figure is approaching 60 percent. Both in the state and nationally, age and gender are often indicia of whether a citizen favors or opposes gay unions. Women and younger people tend to favor gay marriage. Men and older folks are more likely to oppose it.

So far, the organized opposition has mainly come from the pre-existing network of fundamentalist Christians that supported the anti-gay Oregon Citizens Alliance.

Commission Chairperson Diane Linn, a Catholic from a conservative background, says she will not back down. That is in spite of a recall effort against her and the other three commissioners who agreed to allow gay marriage -- and the Oregonian's editorial urging they be driven from office. The Portland Tribune profiled Linn (pictured above) in a recent article.

She concentrates on job and family these days, showing no apparent sign of strain. In the course of her day, she gets occasional words of encouragement but nothing disparaging. She's lauded by the lines of license applicants just as loudly as she's berated by the critics. And clearly she thinks she and the other three commissioners will be remembered in the end more for the social change they wrought than the process used to get there.

The cost, though, may be high. At one point last year, Linn considered running for mayor, but now her political prospects seem changed.

"I'm not worried about my career at all," she said. "This is my career. What you strive for makes you stronger."

Opponents of gay marriage have switched from seeking new statutes defining marriage as between a man and a woman to pursuing a constitutional amendment banning gay unions.

A statewide initiative campaign to block same-sex marriages will focus on amending the Oregon Constitution because of recent legal opinions from Attorney General Hardy Myers and others, organizers said Wednesday.

They will withdraw another proposal that would have changed state statutes to specify marriage as being only between a man and a woman.

Their reason: Myers and other government lawyers have made clear the critical question is whether blocking same-sex marriages violates the constitution.

"Everyone is now pointing to the constitution," said Tim Nashif, a spokesman for the Defense of Marriage Coalition.

The lawsuit filed by Bruce Broussard, a darkhorse Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, has been dismissed. Broussard lacked standing to complain about Multnomah County granting marriage licenses to gays, since he is not effected by the practice.

However, a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other parties will likely go forward -- fast.

The civil-rights group filed the suit in Multnomah County Circuit Court on behalf of gay couples whose marriages were not recognized by the state’s Office of Vital Statistics.

Multnomah County commissioners decided to grant the licenses three weeks ago. The county, which encompasses much of metropolitan Portland, is the only part of the country currently issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Kevin Neely, spokesman for Attorney General Hardy Myers, said the state will file its response by April 5, and a decision by Multnomah County Circuit Judge Frank Bearden is expected by the end of that month under an expedited process agreed to by gay-marriage opponents and supporters.

That would set the stage for an immediate appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court, but it is unclear when the high court would hear or rule on the case.

Some Republican state legislators did not want the kettle boiling without their names prominently displayed. They sought to intervene in the lawsuit and were told to bug off.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A Multnomah Circuit Court judge has turned down a request by 14 state lawmakers who wanted to join a lawsuit over the legality of gay marriages in Oregon.

Judge Frank Bearden on Friday rejected the Republican legislators' "motion to intervene" in the suit filed Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, because he said it would slow down proceedings.

Bearden said the controversy over Multnomah County's decisions to begin issuing marriage license to same-sex couples demanded a prompt decision.

"This court is merely a speed bump on the road to the (state) Supreme Court," he said.

So much for the free publicity that would help them in their next runs for office.

We wait. While we wait we will see what additional twists and turns occur as Oregon becomes the first state to decide what the rights of an emerging minority are.

Reasonably related

•The beginning of the backlash.

•Oregon becomes the only place gays can marry.

•The antis lose a round.

3:35 PM