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July 28th, 2010 Jacob Reingold | News Stories
 

Wedding Planners

Canvassers hit Oregon’s streets to talk same-sex marriage rights.

     
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THE MARRIAGE RIGHT: Demi Espinoza (right) can count Renuka Ras as a supporter of same-sex marriage.
IMAGE: Rachelle Hacmac

Under a hot sun in a suburban Washington County neighborhood, Demi Espinoza went door-to-door last weekend asking for support for her civil rights.

Espinoza, a 26-year-old field organizer who is a lesbian and lives in the Kerns neighborhood of Portland, was among 50 paid and volunteer canvassers working on behalf of Basic Rights Oregon on Saturday, July 24. The canvassers were part of the nonprofit’s latest effort to extend marriage rights to LGBT couples in Oregon.

Even though none of the measures on the state ballot this November deals with marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, BRO is running TV ads this summer on stations across Oregon that feature straight and LGBT couples talking about marriage and family values. And BRO has been soliciting donations from supporters—as of July 26, it had raised just over $10,000 in recent weeks, enough to buy 400 cable spots statewide.

The ads and canvassing efforts are part of BRO’s strategy to “have conversations.”

But what Espinoza heard more than once when she went out canvassing (accompanied by WW) on a 92-degree day in Beaverton was, “I don’t really want to have a conversation.”

The neighborhood Espinoza covered was Southwest Snowy Owl Lane, just off Scholls Ferry Road. It’s in the heart of Washington County, Oregon’s second-largest county. Because of its urban-suburban mix and large population, Washington County is a swing county in elections and crucial to any future push to repeal Oregon’s ban on gay marriage.

In 2004, 54 percent of Washington County voters backed Measure 36, the constitutional amendment defining marriage in Oregon as between a man and a woman. Statewide, the ban passed with support from 57 percent of Oregon voters.

Despite pressure from some gay-rights supporters to speed up the process of reversing that ban making Oregon the sixth state to allow same-sex marriage, BRO spokeswoman Maya Blackmun says: “To build overwhelming support, and that does take time. We have learned through talking with Oregonians that one-on-one conversations like this is what it’s going to take.”

Most of the homes Espinoza visited had nobody home or residents unwilling to talk when Espinoza made her pitch of: “I hope to someday be able to marry the woman I love, and I wanted to know if you supported gay marriage.”

But she did have lengthy talks with two neighborhood residents.

“It’s a shame. I don’t know why people have a problem with [same-sex marriage],” says Renuka Ras, a self-employed, 52-year-old Indian immigrant. “When it hits their family, they’ll know.”

Ras described her neighborhood as full of people with different views and backgrounds including Latino, Asian and Russian.

Ras says such diversity makes it tough to gauge how many people support gay marriage in her area. She wasn’t even sure if everyone in her household would accept the idea.

“You should talk to my husband,” said Ras after endorsing gay rights. “He may tell you a different story.”

In 2007, the Oregon Legislature enacted a law that allows domestic partnerships. After Maine residents voted last year to overturn same-sex marriage there (see “The Maine Event,” WW, Nov. 11, 2009), BRO executive director Jeana Frazzini said that those results highlighted the value of her organization’s approach to take the time between then and 2012 to show Oregonians the merits of overturning Measure 36.

This summer, BRO is choosing not to discuss any upcoming ballot measures.

“We want to be able to talk with people and hear their concerns outside the heat of a political campaign,” Blackmun says. “The question of whether it becomes a ballot measure is for another day.”

Asked directly if BRO’s efforts are geared toward a marriage-rights measure in 2012, Frazzini says, “When the time comes we’ll look at the questions you have to ask for an election.”


FACT: Basic Rights Oregon plans canvasses throughout the summer. The date of the next one in the Portland metro area hasn’t been determined. For info, call 222-6151.
 
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