Oregon's shame, effaced at last
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.