As the Gipper, may he rest in peace, might have said: Here we go again.

Last week, opponents of gay marriage made a pilgrimage to Salem, where they turned in their petitions to force a state vote on the issue. (And, stealing a page from Team Bush in Iraq, they did so two days earlier than expected.)

By collecting twice the number of signatures needed, the Defense of Marriage Coalition has virtually assured a repeat of 1992, when Lon Mabon asked voters to require schools to "discourage" homosexuality, an orientation that the proposed law would have declared as "abnormal" and "perverse."

After fumbling around for awhile, the "No on 9" forces gathered to fight the measure--and ended up smiting Mabon and his conservative Christian soldiers at the polls.

The Nose was never prouder to be an Oregonian than at that moment. The defeat of Measure 9 was an unmistakable statement: In Oregon, at least, concern about gay rights wasn't limited to limp-wristed men and hairy-legged women. The No on 9 forces included several prominent Republicans and representatives from Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, an alliance of Catholic, Jewish and Protestant congregations, including several African-American churches.

And so, the Nose assumed a similar coalition would step forward last week to denounce the effort to clutter the state constitution with a ban on same-sex unions.

He's still waiting.

Kevin Mannix, the current state GOP honcho, actually supports the measure, while moderate Republicans don't seem eager to step in front of the gay-ban bandwagon.

They must have read the polls, showing support for this measure is stronger than a Maria Sharapova forehand. Or maybe they don't want to challenge the view of George Bush (a strong no-gay-marriage kind of guy) in a swing state.

But what really baffles the Nose is the silence from the pulpits, particularly those in African-American churches.

Now, the Nose hates stereotypes, but that doesn't mean he doesn't believe them. He always understood that African Americans are more liberal than whites. (John Kerry, after all, is expecting 80 percent of the black vote.) And what could be a more liberal cause than extending a civil right to a group that has historically faced discrimination?

Well, when it comes to gay marriage, conventional wisdom tanks. A nationwide poll conducted last fall by the Pew Research Center found that while support for gay marriage among white Americans had grown from 27 percent in 1996 to 39 percent last year, support among African Americans had barely changed, inching up from 26 percent to 28 percent.

In Portland, one of the most outspoken advocates of banning same-sex unions is the Rev. T. Allen Bethel, senior pastor of Maranatha Church.

"We always will say that marriage is between a man and a woman," the Rev. Bethel says in a statement posted on the Defense of Marriage Coalition website.

Bethel is president of Albina Ministerial Alliance, a coalition that includes 125 largely black congregations in the Rose City.

There are a couple of theories to explain African-American opposition to gay marriage. Some attribute it to the simple fact that African Americans tend to be more religious than many whites assume (61 percent say they pray daily). Others say it's a form of homophobia with deep cultural roots in the black experience.

The Nose, as usual, has no clue. But he knows that if the pro-gay-marriage forces rely on liberal white Democrats, this gay old fall will have a very different ending than the one in 1992.