Measure 36: Things look different here

Oregon isn’t the only state where voters are grappling with the question of gay marriage.

It’s just more intense here.

Ten other states have constitutional amendments similar to Measure 36, which would amend the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, on their ballots Nov. 2.

According to a Sept. 28 New York Times article, support for the measures is more widespread in other states than here in Oregon. Voters in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Utah are all expected to pass the measure by an easy margin – some, like Kentucky, by as much as 75 percent.

Writing one man-one woman language into the constitution will be toughest in Oregon, supporters of the measures say. Opponents point to Oregon as the lone state where defeating the measure is a possibility.

The No on 36 campaign’s polls put the race as a statistical tie, with neither side having over 50 percent of Oregonians’ support.

Though Oregon’s political climate varies across the state, populous and liberal-leaning Multnomah County could carry the state’s decision to keep Measure 36 out of the constitution. Multnomah County issued over 3,000 same-sex marriage licenses last spring.

The Oregon Supreme Court will hear arguments about legality of those licenses Nov. 18.

Like Oregon, Michigan and Ohio are swing states, meaning they are generally less likely to approve an amendment based on codifying traditional values than the eight other solidly Republican states facing the decision.

The difference in Michigan and Ohio is size of audience. Opponents of the measures estimate they would need $10 million to effectively campaign, the New York Times reported.

For that reason, national groups have focused their money on the Oregon race. With help from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and other out-of-state groups, No on 36 has raised almost $1.5 million, outspending supporters by about three dollars to every dollar of Yes on 36 advertising.

With the exception of Oregon, every one of the other ten states voting on the amendment has already signed the 1996 Defense Of Marriage Act into state law.

The act defines marriage under federal law as a legal union of one man and one woman. If adopted by a state, it allows that state to recognize or deny any “marriage-like relationship” of a same-sex couple, even if the relationship is legally recognized by another state. This bypasses the “full faith and credit” clause in the U.S. Constitution, which requires the reciprocal acknowledgement of each state’s actions by the other states.

Three states – Georgia, Arkansas and Oklahoma – have been sued by opponents of the amendments, who claim the measures are deceptive or break election rules. Georgia’s ballot title addresses the definition of marriage and the text of the amendment would prohibit civil unions as well.

In Louisiana, where the Defense of Marriage Act was already state law, voters passed a similar constitutional amendment by 78 percent in Sept. 18. Last Tuesday, a state judge threw out the amendment, saying the amendment was legally flawed because it banned not only gay marriages but also civil unions. The ruling is being appealed.

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said that eight of the 11 proposed amendments would ban civil unions as well as same-sex marriages.

Michigan’s Proposal 04-02, as its equivalent to Measure 36 is called, would prohibit legal recognition of marriage and civil unions. So would the measures in Georgia and Kentucky, with other states limiting recognition of other relationships to varying degrees.

Another 11 states are facing lawsuits to secure gay marriage rights, including Oregon.

Thirty-seven states have signed the Defense of Marriage Act into their state law and/or constitution. A few other states have defined marriage as between a man and a woman in laws that predate the Defense of Marriage Act. Only Massachusetts has legalized same-sex marriage, and only Vermont has legalized civil unions, although New Jersey has a domestic partner registry with some marriage benefits.