Oregonians last fall watched while voters in Washington, Maine, Minnesota, and Maryland enthusiastically welcomed same-sex marriage and maybe wondered why we weren't on that history-making list. But there was good reason to wait, activists said. They worried about the millions it would take to run a campaign and the time supporters would need to win over voters in less progressive parts of the state.
It's not quite 2014. Not yet. But the wait for marriage equality in Oregon is—in one very large way—over. This morning, a new group, Oregon United for Marriage, announced the first steps toward placing a constitutional amendment—dubbed the "Freedom to Marry and Religious Protection Initiative"—on the November 2014 ballot.
"We have worked tirelessly to build support for marriage equality in Oregon, to engage our community and our allies–and now it's time to take the next step in winning the freedom to marry for all Oregonians," says Basic Rights Oregon Executive Director Jeana Frazzini said in a prepared statement. "Today, we are inviting our partners and supporters to take this next step with us: To sign the sponsorship petition, and commit to uniting Oregon in support of the freedom to marry for all Oregonians."
The amendment would undo the state's current constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. It also would spell out, according to a release, that "civil marriage for gay couples does not affect religious marriages, religious institutions or clergy in any way. No religion would be forced to marry same-sex couples, or recognize same-sex marriages within the context of their religious beliefs."
The petition filed today starts the clock on signature gathering for the proposed measure. After gathering its first 1,000 signatures, the group would then need permission to collect the tens of thousands more it would need to push the initiative onto the ballot.
The national momentum has been sharp and gratifying, with nine states now explicitly allowing same-sex marriage. But bringing marriage equality to Oregon still won't be easy. When the Mercury first reported on the decision to wait until 2014, Basic Rights Oregon had found that only 48 percent of Oregon voters supported same-sex marriage.
As the Oregonian, in its reporting on today's announcement, notes that although voter support in a December poll by Public Policy Polling climbed to 54 percent, an off-year election also means a lower turnout and a more conservative electorate.
For example, after Barack Obama’s initial presidential victory in 2008, turnout dropped in Oregon by nearly 14 percentage points in 2010. And turnout was down more sharply among Democrats than among Republicans.
The O also points out that opponents are already waiting. The misnamed Oregon Family Council has planned a counter-campaign of its own.
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