Last month, President Barack Obama publicly backed gay marriage. Then Jay-Z did. Then the US First Circuit Court of Appeals deemed the Defense of Marriage Act—defining marriage as a legal union between a man and woman—unconstitutional. And, just last week, another federal appeals court pushed California's anti-same-sex marriage law Proposition 8 to the Supreme Court. But, while the country seems to be on a steady roll toward legalizing same-sex marriage, the question remains: Is Oregon ready to make the push?
To Jeana Frazzini, director of LGBT advocacy group Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), Oregon's already on a roll. "I think a lot of people are under the impression that things aren't moving," says Frazzini. "What we're doing is creating the right environment for a future campaign." Although BRO strategically didn't drive for a marriage-supporting measure on the upcoming ballot, the organization has spread itself across the state to connect with a wide variety of voters. And it's working.
"All the people we've been talking to seem much more motivated to get behind gay marriage than in the past," says Frazzini. "Maybe it was the president's support, but a lot of folks are thinking anew about an issue that previously lacked dialogue. In the 2004 election, people got in a camp and stayed there. Now they're thinking differently."
State polls echo Frazzini's outlook. In 2011, a poll from political group Public Policy Polling showed that 48 percent of Oregonians are in support of gay marriage. That's a massive turnaround from 2004, when 57 percent of Oregonians voted in support of Measure 36, a state constitutional amendment cementing marriage as "a union only between one man and one woman." Additionally, 2010 Census numbers crunched last year by think tank the Williams Institute show that Oregon is the fifth gayest state in America, based on our per capita number of same-sex partnerships.
Based on these numbers and BRO's current outreach, Frazzini says, slowly but surely, Oregon could be ready for a same-sex marriage measure in the 2014 election. But, she says, much depends on what happens this fall.
"A lot is at stake in the 2012 elections," says Frazzini. "A lot hinges on what the day after looks like." For now, BRO is helping to support Washington's controversial ballot measure to become the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage.
When it comes to legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide—a move that would leave BRO with a lot less work—Frazzini says the country's missing a key ticket to success: a national majority. "There's ample evidence from previous struggles in civil rights issues that we need mass support to make a serious change," says Frazzini. "Right now, many states are working to overturn constitutional amendments, but not enough to make it a top federal goal. It's important not to rush this, but know that we're getting closer to our goal every day."