Court approves anti-gay marriage ballot title

The Oregon Supreme Court has approved the ballot title for an initiative to ban gay marriage.

If supporters of same-sex marriage don’t ask the court to reconsider within five days, the authors of the ballot title can start gathering signatures by the middle of next week.

To place the constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot in November, opponents of same-sex marriage would have to collect 108,840 valid signatures by the July 2 deadline.

If that happens, voters will be asked to resolve a debate that has been dividing Oregon since the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners announced in March the county would start issuing marriage licenses to gays and lesbians.

More than 3,000 couples received the licenses before the county stopped issuing them in April pending resolution in the courts.

Oregon law says marriage is a civil contract between males and females at least 17 years old who solemnize the marriage by declaring “they take each other to be husband and wife.”

In approving the ballot title, the court rejected opponents’ request to change the ballot wording to say the proposal would place limits on the Oregon Constitution’s guarantee of equal treatment for all citizens.

The constitution contains no reference to marriage. Opponents of the proposed ban on same-sex marriage, however, note that Article 1, Section 20, states: “No law shall be passed granting to any citizen or class of citizens privileges, or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens.”

The initiative would amend the Oregon Constitution to read: “It is the policy of Oregon, and its political subdivisions, that only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or legally recognized as a marriage.”

Petition circulators would have about six weeks to collect the needed signatures. Tim Nashif of the Defense of Marriage Coalition said his group hopes to emulate the signature-gathering success that petitioners had last year in placing the Legislature’s $800 million tax increase on the ballot. Their petitions forced a Feb. 3 vote, in which Oregonians rejected the proposed increase.

In that campaign, the Taxpayer Defense Fund collected more than 118,000 valid signatures in seven weeks beginning in early October.

Russ Walker of Citizens for a Sound Economy, which led the signature drive, said supporters of the marriage initiative may collect signatures faster than his group did.

“The way people react to this issue makes the way they react to the tax issue look everyday,” Walker said. “There is this re-emerging group of social conservatives that aren’t nearly as energetic on fiscal issues.”

Basic Rights Oregon, a gay-rights advocacy organization opposing the marriage initiative, will start preparing to campaign against the proposal, executive director Roey Thorpe said.

“Securing a permanent right to marry and protecting the 3,000 marriages that already exist are our top priorities at this time,” she said. “So we will be putting together a campaign, because we can’t wait to find out if they have enough signatures.”