When the Supreme Court announced Dec. 7 that it would hear challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8 in the spring, gay rights advocates across the country rejoiced. Savage Love columnist Dan Savage, who just got married in Washington, would probably enjoy seeing his Oregon friends get wed as well. But rulings favorable to marriage equality won’t immediately affect Oregonians; a 2006 amendment to Oregon’s Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
Sasha Buchert of Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) says that Oregonians will have to pass a ballot measure changing the language in Oregon’s Constitution to achieve marriage equality. “Both issues — even in the best case scenario for striking the Defense of Marriage Act completely and ruling Proposition 8 unconstitutional — would be an amazing event for our country and another step forward in getting the freedom to marry for all gay and lesbian committed couples across the country, but it wouldn’t affect Oregonians directly because we don’t have the option of going through the Legislature to remove the constitutional amendment in Oregon,” she says.
A ballot measure might be in the cards for 2014, but Buchert says that BRO hasn’t decided if that’s the most responsible decision yet. “It’s a very expensive process to run a ballot measure campaign,” she says, “and we need to make sure that we have the grassroots support and support period in Oregon to move forward with this.”
Buchert says that Oregon has faced more anti-LGBT equality ballot measures than any other state in the U.S., but even without a 2014 ballot measure for measure equality, things are looking up for lesbian and gay people in the Beaver State. “We’ve gone from those bad old days in the ’80s to running proactive campaigns to win domestic partnerships and to win nondiscrimination protections and safe schools protections against bullying,” she says.
BRO’s strategy in the short term is hyper local. “Our position is that we’re not looking to the courts to win the freedom to marry,” Buchert says. “We’re doing the work that we need to do: the grassroots organizing and having the conversations we need to have with our friends and family about why marriage matters in Oregon.” — Shannon Finnell