March 2nd, 2005 Zach Dundas | Special Section Stories
 

The Odd Couple

The Leaders in Oregon's gay-wedding war are still at each other's throats. Ain't marriage grand?

     
Tags:
ROEY THORPE
IMAGE: STEPHEN VOSS
Among the thousands of unions sealed last March and April after Multnomah County unleashed gay marriage, one is the ultimate example of a dysfunctional relationship.

Roey Thorpe, leader of the gay activist group Basic Rights Oregon, orchestrated gay marriage's Portland fling. Tim Nashif, a longtime Republican organizer, rallied conservative churches against same-sex unions, winning big in what he calls the most intense campaign he's ever seen. The two leaders marshaled forces to battle over Measure 36, the constitutional amendment proclaiming marriage a hetero-only institution.

Since then, peace has not exactly broken out.

A year after the brief window of time when Portland gays and lesbians could publicly say "I do," Thorpe and Nashif are both adjusting to new roles in passionate movements, plotting strategy in a still-evolving battle. Last month, Thorpe's group filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of Measure 36, while Nashif is lobbying the state Legislature to block efforts to declare homosexuals a legal minority.

The pair—who, according to Nashif, have never met personally—don't hesitate to fling insults at the opposition.

For better or worse, they're stuck with each other.

There's a Wonder Woman calendar hanging on the wall of Roey Thorpe's modest downtown office. The 42-year-old leader of Basic Rights Oregon, one of the country's biggest statewide gay-rights groups, will look to harness some of the Amazonian avenger's power this spring. Despite getting her clock cleaned in November's election, Thorpe is launching a whole new campaign.

This Thursday, Basic Rights expects to draw 1,000 supporters from all over the state to Salem for a rally on the Capitol steps. And outside of the state, Thorpe seems to have an enhanced national profile. While other activists lost their jobs after 11 states passed anti-gay marriage measures in November, Thorpe was invited to D.C. and Denver last month to talk strategy.

Gay-marriage opponents are preparing amendment campaigns in more than a dozen states in 2005 and '06, and Thorpe finds her battlefield experience makes her in demand.

"Yes, we're further behind legally than we were before Measure 36 passed," Thorpe says. "At the same time, we're the state that did better than any other state. So when it comes to the entire movement, we're at the table in a way nationally that we weren't before."

In Salem, Oregon legislators will tackle numerous gay-rights-related issues, including civil-union bills and several proposals to outlaw housing, employment and other discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Despite the pummeling Basic Rights took at the polls (and from some erstwhile allies—see Queer Window, page 19), Thorpe says Multnomah County's move to issue marriage licenses last year permanently changed the way legislators and others think about such issues.

"Now we have Republican legislators talking about civil unions," Thorpe says, noting an anti-discrimination bill co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Vicki Berger and Democratic Sen. Rick Metsger. "And there was a shift in the gay community. People went from not caring about marriage to caring a lot—only to get the big smackdown."

Maybe it's no surprise that the leader of a campaign that lost by more than 13 percentage points has honed her ability to detect silver linings. But Thorpe insists that her outfit is better off now than it was a year ago—Basic Rights has new field offices in Medford, Salem and Bend. Though the group says fundraising has been tough after an election in which it took in millions from national gay-rights groups, it has doubled its operating budget from $250,000 to $500,000. After big increases in donors and volunteers last year, Basic Rights claims more than 10,000 names on the rolls.

Thorpe wears a rock on her ring finger, commemorating her marriage to her longtime partner at the height of last spring's uproar. When she criticizes Nashif and his allies—saying they misrepresented themselves on the campaign trail, for instance—the feelings on the other side are just as strong.

"Roey and Basic Rights have always tried to define me, and the more negatively, the better." Tim Nashif, a husky and talkative 51-year-old, sits in a conference room at Gateway Communications, his printing and marketing firm, in an office park on Northeast Airport Way. A portrait of George W. Bush hangs on the wall, alongside a night shot of the U.S. Capitol and framed copies of the Oregon Family Council's Christian Voter's Guide, which Nashif started publishing in 1980.

The businessman insists politics is a sideline ("call it conviction, call it my hobby") to his real life as a pastor—he runs food, clothing and single-mom ministries. Obviously, being thought of as a bigot drives him to distraction.

"They've tried to put us in the Lon Mabon box," he says, referring to the strident head of the Oregon Citizens Alliance who led anti-gay efforts in the '90s. "But they can't do it, because the shoe doesn't fit."

Indeed, the Defense of Marriage Coalition, basically a spinoff of the Oregon Family Council, put on an impressive political show last year. Measure 36 qualified for the ballot with a record haul of petition signatures, gathered by thousands of churches. Its individual donor corps approached 25,000 people. Like Thorpe, Nashif says his organization is in great shape. For the first time, the OFC has a dedicated lobbyist in Salem, and Nashif himself has been unusually active at the Capitol this winter.

Nashif says it's all defensive, an attempt to guard traditional values from an aggressive gay-rights lobby.

"We wouldn't be here if Basic Rights and the commissioners hadn't done what they did last March 3," he says. "We will not put forward legislation aimed at going after anyone. We never have."

Nashif is pushing a bill in the Legislature that would create unions—or "reciprocal partnerships"—open to any two people not allowed to marry. Two brothers who own property together could enter into one; so could two lesbians.

"If it's a question of people not being able to get benefits, let's open benefits to anyone barred from marriage," Nashif says.

(Thorpe derisively dubs this the "you can marry your grandmother" plan.)

In addition to supporting his "reciprocal partnerships" bill, Nashif is also trying to snuff out any of the anti-discrimination bills now pending. "There's no evidence of discrimination against homosexuals," Nashif says. "We don't think someone's sexual orientation—how they decide to act sexually—should be part of the law."

During and after the campaign, critics blasted Nashif for intertwining his political and business interests. The Defense of Marriage Coalition wrote checks to Gateway for printing and other services. Nashif says that most of that money repaid cash his business fronted the campaign—by, for instance, arranging purchases with vendors through Gateway's accounts.

"I've never been in a campaign that cost me so much money," Nashif says, adding that his company has written off $100,000 loaned to the campaign. He says the finance questions are part of a strategy to portray him as something he's not—which, yes, is a theme he returns to often.

"I've been called all sorts of names," Nashif says. "It's the last thing Basic Rights ever wants to think of me, but I do this work out of conviction."

MENU: Intro |Uncoupling | The Political Odd Couple | Queer Window | Onward, Christian Soldiers | Update

 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
 
 
 

 

comments powered by Disqus
 

Web Design for magazines

Close
Close
Close