This November, it is likely that the decision whether to ban same-sex marriages or not will be decided by a similarly tiny percentage of the state's population. A recent poll conducted by Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) showed 49 percent of potential voters were in favor of the constitutional amendment to limit marriages to between a man and a woman, while 46 percent opposed it and 5 percent were undecided. Based on voter turnout in Oregon for the 2000 election, the 5 percent undecided represents around 75,000 people that civil rights advocates will need to win over if they hope to defeat the proposed amendment. But what makes the task of persuading undecided voters especially tricky is that these fence-sitters are demographically all over the map.
"Unfortunately, there's not a silver bullet," says No on 36 spokesperson Rebekah Kassell. Swing voters include everyone from suburban housewives to east Oregon ranchers. To reach these voters, No on 36 has set up a network of field offices across the state and has mobilized volunteers to pound the pavement. They believe that speaking with voters face-to-face is their best approach. In addition, a TV and radio campaign will be rolled out between now and the election.
But frighteningly, this strategy is similar to the one used earlier this spring and summer in Missouri, where efforts to stop a gay marriage ban were soundly trounced 70 to 30 percent. Moreover, with the battle over Measure 36 essentially shaping up as a fight for 75,000 Oregonians, same sex marriage advocates seem to already be a woeful step behind their opponents.
While No on 36 plans to roll out a TV and radio campaign in a month or so, In Defense of Marriage, the far Right organization that wrote and sponsored the initiative, has already purchased massive amounts of airtime. Expect to see anti-gay marriage ads as soon as this week.
In another tact, opponents to Measure 36 also hope to cut the legs out from underneath In Defense of Marriage. BRO has accused petition gatherers of breaking election law in their effort to gather enough signatures for the initiative to qualify for the ballot. For example, BRO representatives say that those organizations improperly used churches and soup kitchens to bully needy families into signing the petitions; that is, they offered food to signers--and, conversely, threatened to withhold food from non-signers.
But even if the investigation plows forward, it will prove too little, too late for civil right advocates. After an initial investigation, if wrongdoing is suspected, the elections office will refer the matter to the state attorney general, who would investigate further and determine if criminal charges apply. That process could take months--certainly well past election day. And, even if the investigation uncovers criminal wrongdoing, the Secretary of State has no authority to pull the initiative from the ballot or to nullify the amendment if it passes.
Perhaps the best hope for opponents to Measure 36 will come from out-of-state. Although 10 other states--like Louisiana, Ohio and Utah--are debating similar measures this election cycle, Oregon is seen as having the best chance to defeat such a proposal. As such, over the past few weeks, several national organizations have begun plowing money and resources into Oregon. Already the DC-based Human Rights Campaign has sent $40,000 to help fight the battle in Oregon. In the next few weeks, says HRC associate field director Sally Green, the organization expects to hand over another substantial sum. Even so, it may also be a question of too little, too late. In the ill-fated battle in Missouri, HRC gave $100,000 in a futile attempt to defeat a proposal similar to Measure 36.