The marriage dispute

Measure 36, a constitutional amendment to define marriage in Oregon as being between a man and a woman, is raising questions both legal and religious according to backers and opposition groups.

The measure, proposed and put on the ballot by The Defense of Marriage Coalition, is officially not rooted in religion, but does highlight the difficulty some religious organizations have had reconciling gay rights issues with religious doctrine.

The issue, whether religious or legal, was raised last spring when Multnomah County began granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples Mar. 3 of this year. The decision to do so was later stopped by Oregon courts, leaving the marriages already performed hanging in limbo.

The Defense of Marriage Coalition has a strong endorsement from the state’s largest religious group – the Oregon Catholic Conference – and the 280,000 Catholics it represents, along with other major religious bodies such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holding near 90,000 members in Oregon.

In all, the coalition boasts support from more than 2,000 churches in support for the amendment.

The No on 36 campaign reports over 100 religious leaders and 31 congregations that represent 20 denominations in support of its efforts.

“The majority of [our supporters] are over thirty years of age. It’s the twenty-nine-year-olds and younger where we lose out. It is almost a direct split,” said Tim Nashif, a spokesman for The Defense of Marriage Coalition.

That’s not to say that younger generation isn’t focused or devoted religiously. The DOMC believes that the youth have yet to understand the “harm” of approving same-sex marriages.

“It’s a social experiment [the younger generations] will have to live with,” Nashif said.

All over the country various denominations and sects of religions are struggling to find an interpretation of the scriptures that define their beliefs and a defiant stance on same-sex marriage both locally and at a national level.

Pastor Edward Wahl, a Lutheran Minister at St. Paul’s church located in Carrdington, Ohio, said that he as minister “accepts everyone as individuals.”

Unlike the more strict stance of the Catholic Church or the Wisconsin Senate of Lutherans, Wahl says he will issue blessings to couples of the same sex, and serve them open communion, but under no circumstances can he deviate from the laws of the Bible that define marriage as a tool used for procreation and childbirth, and marry gay couples.

“I don’t think there is a separation between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible on this matter,” Wahl said. “Jesus said, ‘The law shall never end’ in reference to the Pharisees laws. But it gets difficult. Number one, love God, and number two being equally as important, love your neighbor. Where does the line get drawn?”

While religious organizations struggle internally with the issue of homosexuality, there is a public debate about the legality of same-sex marriage.

Officially, Oregon marriage law is not about religion, according to Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers.

“The civil nature of marriage that is established in Oregon law is significant,” Oregon Attorney General Hardy Myers said in a formal letter to Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

The letter was drafted in an attempt to quell some of the legal insecurities that arose after Multnomah County began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples last spring.

In the letter, Myers described the way that the law separates itself from religious governance by authorizing judges and county clerks to issue marriage licenses.

Whether or not the equal protection clause in the Oregon constitution implies that men can marry men, just as women can marry men, is still murky legal territory, as are similar legal clashes around the country.

A constitutional amendment could clear up the confusion but opponents of Measure 36 say that it is not the best answer.

“We don’t want to see the Constitution amended in order to separate people,” said Calvin Fleming, director of events for No on 36, during a fundraiser this past weekend headlined by filmmakers Gus Van Sant and John Cameron Mitchell.

Mitchell sides with Oregon proponents of gay marriage on legal grounds.

“Obviously I can’t argue with [someone’s] religion,” Mitchell said, “but in our progress as Americans we have discovered that women are created equal and black people are created equal and as Americans we shouldn’t encourage adding inequality into our constitution.”

“In some ways, this is about stopping same sex couples from marrying, but also wanting to squash the kind of joy and possibility and freedom that we enjoy and consider important to the quality of lives,” said Roey Thorpe, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, a group that campaigns for gay rights.

When asked what he would say to Oregon college students for something to reflect on, Mitchell said, “Time and history will show this to be as embarrassing as the Jim Crow laws.”

Nashif, on the other hand, said, “‘Live and let live’ is not a good agenda for a nation to have.”