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March 30th, 2011 AILIN DARLING | News Stories
 

The Seven-Year Itch

Same-sex marriages from 2004 celebrated. A ballot measure to restore same-sex marriage rights? Not so fast.

News4_3721LOVE AND MARRIAGE: Gary Burnett (left) and Kevin Lawson (right) stand last weekend at First Unitarian Church to have their anniversary as a wedded couple be recognized. - IMAGE: Christa Connelly
Last weekend, First Unitarian Church of Portland marked the seventh anniversary of the brief moment in 2004 when Multnomah County issued marriage licenses to more than 3,000 same-sex couples.

The church’s “Politics of Love” weekend of events culminated in anniversary celebrations March 27 for about 50 of those gay and lesbian couples, regardless of the Oregon courts having invalidated their licenses in 2004. 

And the celebrations come as Basic Rights Oregon this week launches a three-week statewide TV ad campaign for same-sex marriage rights.

The BRO campaign, which includes direct mail to Portland-area households, is stressing the chance to make Oregon the first state in the nation to vote in same-sex marriage rights. (Five states and Washington, D.C., legally recognize gay marriage as a result of court rulings or legislative action). 

But BRO is not committing itself to a statewide ballot measure campaign in 2012, despite trends in multiple national polls that reflect growing approval of gay marriage rights.

BRO executive director Jeana Frazzini says a continued public-education campaign over the next six to eight months must precede any final decision to seek a 2012 ballot measure to reverse the ban on gay marriage that Oregon voters approved in 2004. 

“Given the expense of mounting a ballot measure campaign, we need to have a reasonable expectation of success,” Frazzini said. “We’re really in a place where conversation about a 2012 ballot measure is a conversation for another day.”

At the First Unitarian anniversary celebrations last Sunday, the conversation—amid couples enjoying Champagne, cake and a slide show of their ceremonies from 2004—was more urgent.

“The couples who were married [in 2004] were told, ‘Not now, not yet,’” Rev. Bill Sinkford said in his Sunday morning sermon. “We will not accept ‘not yet’ as a final answer.”

Rev. Thomas Disrud, an associate minister who is gay, recalled performing about 18 same-sex wedding ceremonies over a week’s period in 2004.

“We recognize the bittersweet dimensions of this anniversary as well,” Disrud told about 150 people. “Sometimes the pace of change seems so terribly slow.”

Ann Zawaski and Helena Lee were among those who raced to get their licenses in Multnomah County in 2004. The couple didn’t even wait to invite their families before getting married.

“I actually felt legal challenges would prevail, and felt the need to rush,” says Zawaski.

And Zawaski and Lee, who celebrated their anniversary Sunday at First Unitarian, say they haven’t given up on their dream of a legal marriage right here in Oregon.

“It’s time we were able to marry,” Zawaski says, “without the need to travel hundreds of miles for that opportunity.”

 
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