The State of Marriage in the State of Oregon -- By: Todd L. Miles
JBMW 9:1 (Spring 2004) p. 98
The State of Marriage in the State of Oregon
Assistant Professor of Theology, Western Seminary Portland, Oregon
Mount Hood, City of Roses, coffee shops, and Multnomah Falls typically come to mind for those who are familiar with Portland, Oregon. March 3, 2004, brought an entirely different set of images to associate with the city. On this day, residents of Portland awoke to find that their county had thrust them square into the center of the culture war, with the news that Multnomah County had begun issuing marriage licenses to gays and lesbians. Portland is by no means a bastion of conservatism. In fact, the Pacific Northwest city has carved out a niche for itself as ecologically driven and libertarian, with a large and vocal lesbian population that is aggressive and influential.1 Still the announcement from the County Commissioners’ office shocked the citizenry. Gays and lesbians, most from Portland, but many from all over the western United States, began streaming to the county office to receive a marriage license. After the first five business days, Multnomah County had issued marriage licenses to over 3,400 gays and lesbians.
What transpired in Portland was not a first. San Francisco had begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples one month earlier. What does make the Portland events worth recapping is what they reveal about the power and strategy of the gay and lesbian political machine and the struggle by Christians to articulate a coherent and compelling response.
The drama actually began two months previous when Massachusetts courts opened the way to gay marriages. Encouraged by the progress made in Massachusetts, a pro-homosexual interest group, Basic Rights Oregon, began to lobby the Multnomah County Commissioners’ office. The county is governed by five elected commissioners, two of whom had each previously received awards from gay-rights groups. These two commissioners were the initial targets of the lobbying efforts of Basic Rights Oregon. Persuaded that Oregon law was sufficiently vague to allow the question of gay marriage to be pressed, the two commissioners then enlisted the support of the County Chairwoman and a fourth commissioner.
Knowing that the majority of Oregonians do not support gay and lesbian marriage, secrecy became the highest priority. The state’s open meeting law forbids the discussion of public business by three or more commissioners. Even though the commissioners’ offices are within shouting distance of each other, to maintain the illusion of following state law, the four commissioners were careful to only meet in groups of two to discuss strategy. Furthermore, they made the decision not to notify the fift...
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