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Friday, November 4, 2011

What Do We Want? Gay Rights! When Do We Want Them? Uhh... Maybe Later

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Fri, Nov 4, 2011 at 12:39 PM

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We're at the crunch point now, everyone. Will we or won't we put gay marriage on the Oregon ballot in 2012?

The fate of thousands of Oregonian's marital status is in the hands of Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), the LGBT rights group that has been canvassing the state since 2009 "starting conversations" about gay marriage. This month, the group is holding town halls statewide (Portland's is Sunday at the Q Center) to listen to public opinion on gay marriage. BRO is slated to announce as soon as next week whether they'll pursue gay marriage in 2012.

The sticking point is this: In order to get gay marriage in Oregon, we have to pass a constitutional amendment, which means getting a majority of voters across the entire state (hello Eastern Oregon!) on board with the idea. Voters are historical skeptical about passing any sort of constitutional amendment and gay marriage is certain to bring an expensive political battle (I believe the Oregon Family Council's words were, "If we have to fight, we're going to fight hard." Gulp.). So BRO wants to have a buffer of support before it heads into campaign season, otherwise we risk winding up with Oregon's very own Prop 8.

The problem is, the most recent polling shows a slim majority of Oregonians oppose gay marriage—roughly 48 percent of Oregonians think gay marriage should be legal. Whether 50 percent of people who will actually turn out to the polls next November will support gay marriage is the issue.

Ugh. It seems to me that it's very possible BRO will decide this week not to bring marriage to the ballot—even after years of canvassing, ads, and political legwork. And that's a shame. As a total political optimist, I think we can win this in 2012. I think this will be an issue that will pull young people and progressive Oregonians to the polls (and to the phone banks, volunteer teams, and fundraising dinners), even when voting for Obama again isn't looking very exciting. With the mainstream gushing over New York's gay marriage passage, more centrist Oregonians will get comfortable with the culture change before next November.

If BRO doesn't go for the gold, they risk alienating the fiery LGBT supporters who are already pissed off at having to wait till 2012. I think this seems like the time for Oregonians to fight for our rites.

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