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Wednesday, March 03, 2004
Multnomah County Recognizes Gay Marriage
"Based on a legal opinion released today by the County Attorney, a majority of the Board of County Commissioners supports a policy change to allow the county to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples."
--Multnomah County, Oregon
Most of Portland is located within Multnomah County, which is geographically the state's smallest, and Portland has long been a culturally liberal, fairly gay-friendly town (though in the late 80s, a rash of gay bashing spread through downtown). The county already recognized domestic partnerships. Apparently the county will begin issuing licenses later this morning, and folks are already lining up to receive them. This is a great day for civil rights, and I'm proud to see our local leaders braving the social heat to extend these basic rights. But lest anyone think otherwise, things are about to get ugly here in the Beaver State (no, I didn't make that name up just for the occasion).
Even as the county made this surprising announcement (I live here, and I didn't even know they were considering it), anti-gay groups are gearing up to put one of four anti-gay marriage initiatives on the November ballot that will permanently remove those rights statewide. Oregon was, sadly, a leader in anti-gay legislation. In the late 80s, a group called the Oregon Christian Alliance (later Oregon "Citizens" Alliance) started a social agenda to limit gay rights and demonize gay citizens. In every election from 1988 through 2002, they tried (and in one case, succeeded) to pass law limiting the rights of gay Oregonians.
And the moment the President announced he planned to support the constitutional ban on gay marriage, Oregon's social conservatives swung into action. A coalition of state pastors hopes to sponsor another initiative, and will support any of the current proposals being offered. Meanwhile, Oregon's senators are feuding, with Democrat Ron Wyden is a gay-rights supporter, but Republican Gordon Smith announced he would support the President's Constitutional amendment. Meanwhile, representatives to the state legislature have also said they'll try to draft law to limit gay marriages if none of the initiatives qualify for the ballot or pass.
All of which means Oregon is about to join the battleground on gay marriage. Bush has (wrongly)targeted the state as a potential win, so we will probably see a procession of national anti-gay pols arrive to blast the County. Meanwhile, the state's fiscal crisis drags on (our unemployment rate is still over 7%), and our schools are sliding into decline. It's not always a convenient time for a civil rights battle, but kudos to Multnomah County for taking up the cause.