Basic Rights Oregon, the largest gay rights group in the state, has decided against putting same-sex marriage on the 2012 Oregon ballot.
This decision came after three years of campaigning to garner support for the issue. BRO has surveyed more than 1,000 people, done door-to-door canvassing and held community meetings to get a sense of citizen support for the issue. They have found that although support is growing, it is not enough to ensure a passing vote next year.
“The decision of our board was to continue to advance the really successful public education campaign which has been about engaging Oregonians about why marriage matters and how its important to all couples, gay and straight,” said Jeana Frazzini, executive director of BRO.
She is hesitant to put the issue up for vote until the organization can have a “reasonable expectation of success.”
Sarah Rondot, an instructor of women’s and gender studies at the University, supports same-sex couples who wish to marry.
“I think Oregon is on the right track for this to be a reality sooner rather than later,” Rondot said. “For this to happen, society would have to be more open-minded about what a family is and move away from thinking about individuals and their relationships as either legitimate or illegitimate.”
According to Frazzini, public support is now about evenly divided on the ballot initiative between legalizing gay marriage and overturning the constitutional ban against same-sex marriage that was approved by voters in 2004. A Public Policy Polling survey of Oregon voters in June found that 48 percent of voters support same-sex marriage.
University senior Chelsea Coleman is in support of same-sex marriage.
“I would absolutely vote for same-sex marriage,” she said. “I don’t think it’s right that gay people aren’t allowed to get married. It shouldn’t be called gay marriage, it’s just marriage. I think that they should have every right to marry whomever they love.”
It is a tough economic environment to pursue a political campaign over a social issue because people are more focused on basic issues of survival, Frazzini said.
She hopes to “build a consensus of marriage equality before heading into heated battle.” BRO hopes to gain more visible allies and community leaders to speak out about the issue.
The campaign would be expensive, too, with Frazzini estimating the costs at somewhere between $8-$10 million. But the campaign could cost same-sex couples much more than just money.
“It’s not only the financial expense,” she said, “but the emotional toll of having our families and our dignity up for a public vote.”
The organization intends to continue its educational work to build support of the issue. BRO has seen a 9 percent shift over the last 18 months in support, which Frazzini said demonstrates the effectiveness of the educational work the organization does.
BRO does not have an exact schedule for when it hopes to have the issue up for vote. They instead want to focus on making sure the issue has a legitimate shot at passing before putting it on the ballot.
“If we were to press forward guns blazing and lose at the ballot,” she said, “we would be looking at a time line of 10 to 12 years versus pressing on with the current campaign and strengthening the foundation we have now.”