Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) is preparing for a long-haul campaign to win marriage equality for Oregon in 2012 but some frustrated local activists say that's too long to wait for civil rights.
A new group in town is leading a march downtown tomorrow to demand LGBT marriage equality now—they say BRO is moving too slowly and missing the opportunity to pressure Obama and mainstream Democrats to push for same sex marriage rights nationally.
"This is a civil rights issue. No one would look at a black person now and say, 'Hey, you should have waited,'" says Chani Geigle-Teller, a local social worker who helped organize fledgling march-leaders the Portland Equal Rights Coalition. The loose group has been meeting every week for the past three months, discussing how Portland LGBT allies could push for marriage equality in a different way than the big, mainstream groups like BRO and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). "BRO as the leader of gay rights here in Oregon should be calling for equal rights now. DOMA should have been overturned, like, yesterday," says Geigle-Teller.
Across town in Forest Grove, a group of Pacific University students are bringing gay activist Cleve Jones to town on Monday night (info here). Jones is fresh off organizing the giant marriage equality march in DC, where he urged the crowd, "Do not accept delays. And when we see leaders and those who represent us saying, ’You must wait again.’ We say, ‘No! No! No longer will we wait!’"
Student Co-Director of Pacific University's Center for Gender Equity Kayla Johnston was at the DC march and is part of the group that felt it was urgent to bring Jones to Portland. "A lot of us on our staff agreed that the HRC approach of, 'Let’s go slow, see what they give us' wasn't enough. We’re tired of waiting. We’re more attracted to Cleve Jones voice."
BRO spokesman Thomas Wheatley defends his organization's tactics, saying that winning gay marriage in Oregon now just isn't politically realistic. Legalizing same sex marriage in Oregon means passing a constitutional amendment in a statewide vote, after Measure 36 passed five years ago in a wave of anti-gay backlash. Winning a statewide vote takes time and money—BRO knocked on 17,000 Oregon doors this summer to talk about marriage equality.
"We’re putting our energy into the things people can do right now that will actually make a difference," says Wheatley, explaining that BRO is sending members to campaign in Washington and Maine, two states facing measures for LGBT civil rights restrictions this November. "I think a march is a great way to capitalize on folks’ energy, but we’re focusing on these campaigns that will be won or lost in 10 days," says Wheatley.
But Geigle-Teller thinks Oregon is prepared to pass a marriage equality constitutional amendment as early as 2010. "I want to believe in the public. People are ready, both gay and straight," she says.
Below the cut—a pro-equality video featuring an old man we can all agree is awesome.
Whether you attend Saturday's march or are banking on 2012, here's a little video to inspire your marriage equality spirits.
It features Phillip Spooner, a man who was born on a potato farm, fought in all five major U.S. battles in WWII, helped liberate Paris and supports gay marriage. He tells the crowd:
"I am here today because of a conversation I had last June while voting. A woman at my polling place asked me, 'Do you believe in full equality for gays and lesbians?' I was pretty surprised to be asked a question like that... I have seen so much blood and guts, so much sacrifice. For what? For freedom and equality."