Mike and Steve have been through this before.
In 2004, they rushed to Multnomah County offices to get a marriage license after county officials began granting same-sex marriages.
There, the couple of eight years—hands shaking with excitement and cheered on by bouquet-bearing friends—eagerly paid $60 to fill out their long-awaited marriage license.
This year, they returned to that same office to register with Multnomah County as "domestic partners," again for $60. The new designation didn't restore any of the rights they lost when Oregon voters passed Measure 36 in 2004, banning gay marriage in the state. But the ability to register their arrangement with the county enabled Mike Pickrell, 55, to get on 59-year-old partner Steve Isaacson's health insurance plan at Portland State University. (Isaacson is associate dean of PSU's Graduate School of Education.)
The county mailed back their marriage registration check in 2004 once Measure 36 effectively annulled their marriage. But the two still have their vows, their matching star sapphire rings, and their marriage certificate from 2004.
And so when the Oregon Family Fairness Act (House Bill 2007) takes effect Jan. 2, 2008, Mike and Steve will trudge to that same office a third time, pay that same $60 fee, and register themselves yet again as a committed couple: this time as state-sanctioned "domestic partners." That will enable them to make healthcare decisions for each other, file joint state tax returns at a substantial annual savings, and enjoy more than 500 other rights and responsibilities.
"Here we go again at another angle," Pickrell says with a good-natured laugh. "We never used to think of marriage even as a possibility." Isaacson adds: "I already feel like we're the most boring married couple."
After riding the political and emotional roller coaster that's been the gay partnership rights movement for the past few years, it's not surprising that many gay couples in Oregon might be feeling marriage fatigue.
And even as Oregon prepares to begin granting same-sex domestic partnerships Jan. 2, with Basic Rights Oregon-sponsored parties across the state, many gays are weary of celebrating another "partnerships victory" too soon.
"I don't sense a lot of excitement about the new law," says Jimmy Parchment, 27.
Parchment and Alan Leggett, 30, met in 2003 on the dance floor of Southeast lesbian dive the Egyptian Room. "And we've been inseparable ever since," Parchment says.
During that time, Parchment volunteered for Basic Rights Oregon, helping to raise money for BRO and rallying his peers against Measure 36.
Though he and Leggett do plan to register as domestic partners ASAP, Parchment says he feels a "sense of apathy" about the new law among he and his peers.
Basic Rights Oregon spokeswoman Karynn Fish calls the new domestic partnership law a landmark civil-rights step but concedes it's not nearly as hyped as the 2004 gay marriage stampede in Multnomah County.
In an informal poll conducted on BRO's website, Fish says, "We heard from about 500 couples around the state saying they plan to get partnered," on or after Jan. 2.
Fish and BRO are also fending off some 11th-hour legal heat from the Tennessee-based anti-gay activist lawyer David Crowe, who led an unsuccessful petition drive to refer the legislatively passed domestic partnership law to the 2008 ballot.
Crowe has filed suit against the Oregon Secretary of State's Office to block the domestic partnership law. Crowe's motion claims that signatories to Crowe's anti-HB 2007 petition will suffer "substantial and irreparable harm" if the law is put into effect Jan. 2. A federal judge will hear the case Dec. 28.
For Leggett and Parchment, the new domestic partnership law is most important because the couple wants to be able to take care of each other in emergencies and old age. The couple also want to adopt kids ("between two and three," Parchment says, "so I'll say two and a half") and plan for the future. And Parchment would like to put the marriage-unions-partnerships conversation on the shelf.
"I don't think this is a conversation we'll be having 20 or 30 years from now," he says. "I think small steps are important. And we've won for now."
Multnomah County expects as many as several thousand couples to register as domestic partners in the coming year. For more information about registering here or in any county in Oregon, go to basicrights.org.