19 May 2014

Oregon's shame, effaced at last

Today's ruling on gay marriage in my home state has a special significance for me.

It might seem odd to many that a relatively liberal state like Oregon has a constitutional provision in place, enacted by referendum no less, banning gay marriage.  Actually it happened as an unfortunate consequence of some unusually forward thinking on the local level here.

In March of 2004 Multnomah county -- the county which includes the city of Portland -- began issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples after a ruling by the county attorney that it was legal to do so.  I was an employee of Multnomah county at the time, and I'll never forget the excitement and energy that accompanied the move -- gay marriage was a very radical idea in 2004.  People were lined up around the county government's main building to get their licenses.  Much was made of the potential economic stimulus as even people from outside Multnomah county came there to take advantage of the newly-recognized right.  But from the very beginning there was a lot of negativity.

Outside the northern Willamette valley, the state is pretty rural and conservative.  Demographically the Willamette valley dominates Oregon -- the Portland metro area alone has half the state's population -- but even there, of course, there were plenty for whom gay marriage was a leap too far.

In May something called the "Defense of Marriage Coalition", consisting of the usual religious pearl-clutchers, launched Ballot Measure 36, an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage.  In a state-wide referendum, the position was hopeless -- at that time, gay marriage probably could not have survived a referendum in any state in the country.  In November, the measure passed 57% to 43%, and that was the end of that.  For almost ten years the ban has been in place, a growing embarrassment to the state as the rest of the country moved forward.

Until today.  Multnomah county's foresight ten years ago is vindicated at last.

6 Comments:

Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Congratulations to Oregon.

I was confident the ban would be overturned by a state that is very much in sync with Massachusetts. Even living in the City of Boston, that is traditionally very blue, there are plenty of people (some of my own neighbors) who are quite conservative and believe that allowing people to marry the persons they love is a slippery slope to hell and the destruction of America as they once knew it.

Did I mention Boston is also a very Catholic city?

Yay Portland! If I had to leave Boston and live in another city, I would choose Portland over San Francisco, and Seattle would be my second choice.

19 May, 2014 13:44  
Blogger Frank Moraes said...

Wow. I was there in 1990 during the whole Prop 8 (I think) which was defeated. But I guess these things never stay resolved for long. But I moved in 1998, and didn't know what had happened since then. Thanks for the update!

19 May, 2014 22:37  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Shaw: I know even the most liberal states sometimes go "off" for a while. We had this, you had Scott Brown, etc.

I've often wished you did live near here -- Boston's a long way away.

Frank: I actually didn't move to Oregon until around 1995, so I'm not familiar with that episode, but I'm sure the state was much different back then. By 2004 Portland was clearly a place ahead of its time -- now the rest of the country is catching up.

21 May, 2014 06:39  
Anonymous NickM said...

Good on ya Oregon!

Of course we have that here now. Gay marriage is unstoppable. The British Conservative Party brought it in! Ten years from now no one will think any of this at all odd. Well, no one who isn't hunkered down with an industrial quantity of explosives. In the UK it went very smoothly. I didn't even notice it.

21 May, 2014 11:39  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nick: It's caused surprisingly little stir here in Oregon, too. The religious fringe elements are freaking out, but most people probably hardly even realized that gay marriage wasn't already legal here.

21 May, 2014 13:27  
Blogger Murr Brewster said...

I'd been wondering what took us so long, too, and then I remembered that we were the first state to put gay civil rights on the ballot at all. It was Measure 9, in 1992. It would have codified discrimination against gays, and we defeated it. But in so doing, we were in the vanguard and got the usual suspects all stirred up.

22 May, 2014 11:15  

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