Supporters start push to allow same-sex marriage in Oregon

Supporters start push to allow same-sex marriage in Oregon »Play Video
Brendon Taga, left, and Jesse Page, of Vashon Island, Wash., take their wedding vows in the King County Courthouse, Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012, in Seattle. Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a voter-approved law legalizing gay marriage Wednesday, Dec. 5. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Supporters of same-sex marriage in Oregon are starting a push to get the issue back in front of Oregon voters by 2014.

Basic Rights Oregon sent out a news release Monday saying the new group, Oregon United for Marriage, will hold a series of petition-signing events starting on Valentines Day at over a dozen locations across Oregon.

Shelly and Kristin Casteel said their 2004 wedding in Canada was the best day of their lives, but came with heartache because their marriage was not recognized in Oregon. Since then, they've been working to change that. They even appeared in an ad for Basic Rights Oregon.

"I think it's important to discuss your life, be open, help people understand we're really no different," said Kristin Casteel. "This has been a long arduous process. I see a light at the end of the tunnel."

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Oregon. The last time the issue was before voters was nearly 10 years ago in 2004 when Measure 36, which amended the Oregon Constitution to recognize marriage only as a union of one man and one woman, passed by over 10 percentage points.

Voters must pass a measure amending the state constitution for a change to occur.

However, voters in Washington, Maine and Maryland all passed same-sex marriage measures in the 2012 election and President Barack Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage both before and after his re-election.

"We have worked tirelessly to build support for marriage equality in Oregon, to engage our community and our allies–and now it's time to take the next step in winning the freedom to marry for all Oregonians," said Jeana Frazzini of Basic Rights Oregon. She is also listed as the Chief Petitioner for Oregon United for Marriage.

"Across the country, and right here in Oregon, we are on a journey of understanding. Our awareness has expanded dramatically in the last few years. As more and more people come to understand that committed couples, whether they are gay or straight, hope to marry for similar reasons, they're coming to realize that this is much more than a political issue," former Governor Barbara Roberts said in the news release for Oregon United for Marriage. "This is about love, commitment and family."

The group said the measure that would go before voters would have “clear religious protections” and no religion would be forced to perform same-sex marriages or “recognize same-sex marriages within the context of their religious beliefs.”

Theresa Harke, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Family Council said the group has been preparing to oppose such a measure and said both sides would have a difficult fight.

Only one man and one woman can procreate, Harke said, so that unique arrangement deserves a unique name.

"Oftentimes we get away from what we're actually talking about, which is the definition of marriage, as opposed to how we feel about same-sex couples and the rights of same sex couples," Harke said.

Oregon United for Marriage said they hope to build a broad coalition of support before the election in 2014.

Basic Rights Oregon decided against seeking a same-sex marriage initiative in the 2012 election, saying at the time that it wasn't clear they could win.

A 2007 Oregon law allows same-sex couples to register a domestic partnership that provides the same rights as marriage under state law. Last year, Oregon had 558 domestic partnerships through October, according to the Oregon Health Authority, which tracks vital statistics.

KATU's Meghan Kalkstein contributed to this story.