IT'S GAY MARRIAGE crunch time, folks. Yes, the November 2012 ballot is 12 months away—and activists have been targeting next fall's election for years—but don't start lining up venues and narrowing down guest lists for your fabulous same-sex wedding.
It's not going to happen.
Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) announced Wednesday, November 9, that it will not go for a gay marriage measure on Oregon's 2012 ballot.
BRO has been working toward a potential 2012 run since 2009 and is slated to announce this week whether it will push for a constitutional amendment redefining marriage as an institution not limited to one man and one woman next year, or hold off until 2014. Sadly, after two years of knocking on doors, running heartfelt TV ads, and gathering steam from national wins, the numbers still don't show gay marriage could safely win in Oregon.
More than 100 people packed into the Q Center on North Mississippi last Sunday, November 6, for one of BRO's town halls on the issue. The news wasn't good. Though the conversational campaign has upped voter support in Oregon nine percent in 18 months (whoa), polling still shows only about 48 percent of Oregonians back gay marriage.
"All the political campaigners are really clear with us," Thomas Wheatley, BRO's organizing director told the crowd. "We've got to have a big buffer of support, something that can withstand their negative ads."
In California in 2008, the anti-gay marriage measure Proposition 8 was trailing by three percentage points eight weeks before election day. But the measure surged to victory thanks to a full-court press of ads from gay-marriage opponents.
That's one thing BRO can count on anytime they decide to push for gay marriage: a big, expensive, ugly battle. Asked about a ballot measure back in September, Teresa Lucas of the conservative Oregon Family Council said, "If we have to fight, we're going to fight hard" ["Gay by Gay," News, Sept 1]. In 2004, anti-gay-marriage groups won a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage with 57 percent of the vote, using ads that warned "gay and lesbian sex will be taught in public schools." BRO estimates a 2012 campaign will cost $10 million—which they'd need to raise this winter (in this recession). Getting on the presidential ballot in the fall means getting a boost from young voters and Democrats, but BRO also fears a wave of conservative backlash.
"In these poor economic times, without the hope of 2008, we think young people and people who are our core supporters will not have the same turnout," said Wheatley.
On the other hand, gay marriage has both the blessing of Oregon's major political leaders (including the governor and all but one congressman) and national momentum. Support for gay marriage among US voters is ticking upward every year. With a big push of volunteers and fundraising, marriage equality could eke out a victory in Oregon. That would make Oregon the first state to have citizens—not the courts or legislature—approve gay marriage. But it looks like Oregon's 14,979 same-sex couples will have to wait another two years to get the rights of full citizens.