"OBAMA! OBAMA! Let mama marry mama!" chanted over 200 protesters as they marched down SW Broadway on Saturday afternoon, October 24. The march and its organizers, fledgling LGBT group Portland Equal Rights Coalition, reveal a split between activists who want same-sex marriage equality now and bigger queer-advocacy groups who are telling their supporters to hold tight until at least 2012.
Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) knocked on 17,000 doors over the summer, starting conversations the state's largest LGBT group hopes will spark major change three years from now ["Eyes on 2012," News, Aug 20]. Thanks to Measure 36, allowing same-sex marriage in Oregon means passing a constitutional amendment in a statewide vote. Winning that kind of campaign takes enormous resources and BRO thinks pushing too quickly for marriage equality in Oregon will lead only to defeat and a backlash.
But not everyone agrees. "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 the march. "I want to believe in the public. People are ready, both gay and straight."
Geigle-Teller is no stranger to direct action—she was arrested recently after splattering the lobby of city hall with red paint in protest of the death in custody of James Chasse ["Painting the Town Red," News, Sept 24].
In addition to Saturday's protest, a group of Pacific University students brought big name gay activist Cleve Jones, a friend of Harvey Milk's, to speak at their school in Forest Grove on Monday, October 26. Jones is one of the leaders of the marriage equality now camp, fresh off organizing a giant march in Washington, 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 the Northwest. "A lot of us on our staff agreed that the [Human Rights Campaign] approach of, 'Let's go slow, see what they give us' wasn't enough. We're tired of waiting."
BRO spokesman Thomas Wheatley says a march is a great way to capitalize on Portlanders' energy but his group is focused right now on opposing campaigns to revoke same-sex couples' civil rights in Washington and Maine. "We're putting our energy into the things people can do right now that will actually make a difference," says Wheatley.