Group kicks off campaign to legalize same-sex marriage

Group kicks off campaign to legalize same-sex marriage »Play Video
Domestic partners Melissa (left) and Erin Sexton-Sayler.

PORTLAND, Ore. -  One of the most divisive issues in Oregon’s history may be coming back to voters as the state’s largest gay-rights group kicked off their campaign Monday to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.

Basic Rights Oregon wants to get its initiative on the 2012 ballot, and a national gay-rights group, Freedom to Marry, met with them on the campus of Portland State University Monday night to discuss strategy.

Gay rights supporters want voters to look at families like the one Melissa and Erin Sexton-Sayler have as an example of how a gay marriage can work. Both are registered domestic partners and are raising 3-year-old Vivian and 17-month-old Carys.

“We’re married,” said Erin. “For all intents and purposes we’re married. We have an anniversary. We have children. We pay our mortgage.”

But for Melissa and Erin they said domestic partnerships don’t go far enough. “For me it goes like we’re second class. My family is not as good as everybody else’s family, not as important [and] don’t deserve the same things other people deserve.”

In 2004, Oregon voters passed Measure 36 which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The chief petitioner of that measure was Pastor Kent Walton of Hilltop Community Church.

“It’s my conviction families need to have dads and moms in the process, in the picture,” he said. “If you just have one side represented, somebody is going to suffer.”

The 2004 marriage campaign divided Oregonians. Walton said he wished it wasn’t a battle between two sides but that Oregonians would have a spiritual awakening and defend traditional marriage.

“I just have a prayer for the people of Oregon and for the culture that we turn our hearts to God and see what it is he wants of us.”

The Sexton-Sayler family said they also hope for an awakening but from an entirely different perspective.

“I think Oregonians are fair-minded people and don’t like to see Oregonians negatively affected by laws preventing marriage,” Erin said.
 
Melissa and Erin were among the 3,000 couples who were married in Multnomah County in 2004. The Oregon Supreme Court later declared those marriages illegal.

The campaign comes on the eve of some closely watched races nationwide. On Tuesday, voters in the state of Washington will decide on a domestic partnership law and in Maine voters will vote on whether to legalize same-sex marriage.