As mentioned earlier, Maine voters overturned a state law in Tuesday’s election that granted the right to marry to same-sex couples. Meanwhile across the Columbia, Washington voters took up Referendum 71—an ‘anything-but-marriage’ law that would grant civil unions to gay and lesbian couples. The referendum looks like it will pass by a narrow margin of victory.
What does this mean for same-sex marriage organizers in Oregon? According to Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), support must be built for marriage equality long before a measure appears on the ballot.
“Our community cannot afford to rush to the ballot and fight this out in a screaming match,” says Jeana Frazzini, executive director of BRO. Frazzini adds that political campaigns rarely offer the opportunity for thoughtful conversations.
This wasn’t entirely unforeseen. At a speech Monday night rallying the advocacy foot soldiers, Freedom To Marry executive director Evan Wolfson warned BRO and other same-sex marriage supporters that the Maine vote could be a disappointment. Wolfson said BRO’s public education plan — which encourages supporters to have one-on-one conversations with friends and loved ones about why marriage is important for the LGBT community — is essential to building the support necessary for a vote down the road.
But in telling people to have conversations about same-sex marriage and not push for legal rights, BRO also may face resistance from couples who are tired of wading through mud of “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships.” As the Mercury reported last month, many want to be married. Now.
“I totally relate,” Frazzini says, adding that she and her partner of 12 years want to be married, too. “It’s painful stuff and it can be scary stuff at times.” But she also says putting measures on the ballot without taking the time to build community support will only lead to disheartening defeats.
“We will actually do more to change the fabric of our communities in having these calm, heartfelt conversations,” Frazzini says.