One year ago this Thursday, Multnomah County—after secret negotiations among four of its five commissioners—abruptly started issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
It reverberated throughout the nation.
In the next few weeks, some 3,000 couples took out licenses. As the only county in the United States to authorize gay marriage, Multnomah County became a circus tent of sidewalk ceremonies, out-of-state media, legal wrangling and political combat.
Less than two months later, a county judge said "Whoa," halting the issuance of licenses and ordering the Legislature to come up with a solution. But gay-marriage opponents got busy, collecting enough signatures to put Measure 36, a constitutional amendment declaring that a marriage is between one man and one woman, on the ballot. The measure passed overwhelmingly.
So are those 3,000 couples married or not? County officials say yes, because the licenses were issued before Measure 36 passed, though the Oregon Supreme Court will probably be the final judge. And at the end of January, gay-rights activists filed a technical legal challenge of Measure 36 in Marion County Circuit Court.
Even though gay marriage's short honeymoon is long over, the passions the issue stirs haven't cooled and have bled over into other current affairs. As one small example, get this: A recent ad supporting President Bush's Social Security plan attacked the AARP by running a picture of a Portland couple kissing on the steps of Multnomah County Courthouse. (Apparently, one chapter of the elder-advocacy group came out against a state gay-marriage ban.)
One year is not enough time to weigh the long-term consequences of the notorious (and for many, joyous) uprising in Portland. What is certain is that for the people we talked to for these stories—a woman whose marriage didn't last, political leaders and moneybags on both sides, as well as one of the gay-rights movement's most disaffected players—the aftermath of the last year seemed as significant as any wedding: It changed everything.