September 15, 2004

(Updated) 'Equality Is Not The Privilege Of The Majority'

City Council Unanimously Opposes Anti-Marriage Amendment

Note: This post has been updated. Any and all updates appear at the end of the original post.

At the conclusion of this morning's exceedingly brief City Council session, Commissioner Randy Leonard formally brought his resolution in opposition to Measure 36 -- the amendment to place special rights for heterosexuals in the Oregon Constitution.

"The issue here is one of equality, [and] equality is not the privilege of the majority," said Leonard as he introduced the resolution. "Civil rights are non-negotiable." He expressed his concern over what would happen "not just to citizens but to children of those citizens" if Measure 36 were to be approved by Oregon voters.

Leonard said that the last thing Oregonians should want to do is "amend our Constitution to have some group of people feel they deserve the institution of marriage" at the expense of any other group of people.

To a fairly small group present for the Council session, only eleven people testified on the resolution. Of those, only one testified against it. Several of those who testified were gays and lesbians in committed relationships.

The first of these moved to Portland with his partner two years ago, drawn in part by "its people and its protections." He said that proponents of Measure 36 were only "partially right" when they call it a moral issue. "The moral issue at stake," he said, "is whether or not the Oregon Constitution should be amended to legalize discrimination."

Katie Potter, daughter of Mayoral candidate Tom Potter and a police officer, explained that despite the "combined 37 years of service to the community" of herself and her partner, neither is eligible under state law for benefits in the event of death in the line of duty. Passage of Measure 36, she said, would "ensure that my family is more vulnerable than those of the people I work with."

"Disagreements," she stated, "should not translate into discrimination."

Another testifier, explaining that she and her partner have been together for 17 years, said she was "astounded by the audacity" of those proposing a measure which "would make equal treatment of Oregon citizens unconstitutional." She urged the members of City Council to formally oppose Measure 36 "regardless of whether voters have the conscience to do the same."

Charles E. Long, a perpetual presence before City Council, cast the lone dissenting opinion of the morning. "This is the wrong venue to bring up this issue," he said. Long then proceeded to quote two verses from the Book of Jude, in perhaps an unintentional reminder to all concerned just what really motivates the most strident backers of Measure 36.

You also know that the angels who did not keep within their proper domain but abandoned their own place of residence, he has kept in eternal chains in utter darkness, locked up for the judgment of the great Day.
So also Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighboring towns, since they indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire in a way similar to these angels, are now displayed as an example by suffering the punishment of eternal fire.

Not content to let Bible verses alone speak for his bigotry, Long added a parting shot: "It is more appropriate for Randy Leonard to propose a Charter change to change the name of Portland to Sodom on the Willamette."

Thankfully, the always on-target Tiffany Harris followed Long's testimony with some reality checks, first by reminding everyone that should the Oregon Supreme Court rule in favor of same-sex marriage, it will have absolutely no bearing upon the decisions of any church whether or not to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Measure 36, Harris said, "would hurt real Oregonians [by] freezing their legal status in time [and] freezing the denial of those rights in our Constitution."

Harris also said it was important to "dispel the notion that this amendment is an effort of last resort" in response to the actions of Multnomah County, and did so by observing (as we ourselves have, repeatedly) that four ballot measures banning same-sex marriage had been filed in February of this year -- before the County had taken any policy action whatsoever.

As such, she explained, none of this has ever really been about the "so-called process," and in fact that process issue is not what will be coming before the consideration of the Oregon Supreme Court. "That's not really what this is about," Harris said.

Paul Leistner spoke on behalf of the board of Southeast Uplift, which recently passed a similar resolution opposing Measure 36. "This was a tough issue for the board," he said, in part because some people argued that "this is not a neighborhood issue." In the end, Leistner said, it was seen by the board as a "more fundamental process issue" and that as an organization "committed to dialogue," and one whose mission statement, statement of unity, and hiring practices speak of diversity and non-discrimination, "we have to walk our talk."

Note: We managed to miss the next person to testify, so we will move on to what followed her, which was the Reverend Tara Wilkins expressing "how much it means when public officials stand up."

Irwin Mandel (equally as ever-present before Council as is Charles E. Long) observed that he's been married for 54 years, something "everyone should have the opportunity to have." As for Measure 36 itself, he said it should take members of the Council all of "three micro-seconds of thought ... to realize this is a disaster" and called for Council leadership on such "over-arching issues."

The other half of that 54-year marriage, Lili Mandel, spoke next. "Standing up against discrimination is everyone's responsibility." She spoke about living in Nazi-occupied Vienna, saying that she understood "what it feels like to be considered less than human."

"I can't sit here and not speak out against any injustice," she said with the obvious emotion of those memories. "Oregon has to show that we do not believe in that kind of discrimination."

Public testimony concluded with Kelly Burke (something of a fixture in the local and state fight over same-sex marriage), who said in no uncertain terms that passage of Measure 36 would have "devasating effects on my family's well-being."

Burke told of a situation we've reported before, wherein she was ineligible for coverage under her partner's healthcare plan -- until they were able to present their Multnomah County marriage licenses. But that acceptance came with the express warning that passage of Measure 36 could lead to the revocation of those new benefits.

But, she continued, "this is not just about health insurance for one family member." And she then went directly to the heart of things. "How do I explain to my son," she asked, "that some of his neighbors voted to take away his family's protections but keep them for themselves?"

Which brought things around for Council comment and the vote.

"The Constitution si supposed to be the document that binds Oregonians together," said Commissioner Jim Francesconi. Saying he hadn't thought about the matter in some particular ways until they were raised during public testimony, he reflected back one of those comments: "Measure 36 actually makes equal protection unconstitutional."

Francesconi called marriage "the only way for government benefits to be provided equally." He added, perhaps referencing the mixed reaction to his original comments about same-sex marriage on the campaign trail earlier this year: "I've come to understand that at a very personal level."

Commissioner Leonard took direct and immediate aim at the testimony of Charles E. Long. "No more pain, suffering, and inhumanity has been inflicted than by those who have fought to impose their beliefs," he said, "all in the name of their God."

"I reject that," Leonard said flatly.

He added that he hadn't appreciated "how diverse our population was" untilhe reached adulthood and travelled, discovering that "what we take for granted here is foreign" in other places.

"Oregon has always been a place for families seeking a better life," said Commissioner Dan Saltzman. He reached back all the way to the original immigrants who became Native Americans, to the families who came across the Oregon Trail.

He said he could see "no reason the government should ever stand in the way" of families, and in a sublime reversal of the arguments of the amendment's backers, said he was taking his position against Measure 36 "on behalf of children."

Saying that the legal arguments had been "made very articulately" already, Commissioner Erik Sten said he wanted to focus on the more personal and human part of the story, but also observed that "in an odd way, a very small-minded initiative" has offered an opportunity.

Calling the argument that same-sex marriage will somehow weaken marriage "absurd," Sten said: "We will never be a great community until all children have a loving home."

He recalled visiting the long lines of couples waiting to obtain their marriage licenses from Multnomah County, and how in that place, at that time, there was no politics, no legal arguments, but simply hundreds of loving couples waiting to be married. "I wish we could recreate that," he said, so that undecided voters could have the opportunity to experience it for themselves.

(Self-referencing note: At one point, Sten mentioned "the process distraction, as somebody in the audience calls it.")

Remarking upon the reality of "people who were celebrating each other" as they waited for licenses and were eventually married, Sten added: "If that doesn't make this community stronger, I don't know what does."

He urged that in the fight against Measure 36, it would require talking one-on-one with other voters, and that it wasn't the legal argument that was going to win out. "When people see who we're talking about," he offered, "their hearts and minds will change."

Mayor Vera Katz picked up on that, saying that this approach was exactly what happened with the campaign against Measure 9. She then turned her attention to Charles E. Long.

"Charles, I respect you," Katz said. "But I want you to rhink about the fact that we can agree ... we can talk about our fears ... but to use the sacred document of the Constitution to deny rights and privileges is not the way to go."

With that, the resolution affirming the City Council's opposition to Measure 36, and urging voters to reject it, passed in no uncertain terms by a unanimous vote of all five members of City Council.

September 15, 2004

Update

A number of relevant items to add now. First, here is KATU's coverage of today's City Council action. Meanwhile, the newsletter out of the No On Constitutional Amendment 36 campaign today said that the ad wars have begun. They say that measure backers have at least two television ads on the air, one of which, claims measure opponents, asserts that the measure wouldn't change the Constitution (something we cannot independently confirm until and unless we see the ad).

While we haven't seen them yet, we did just see an ad opposing Measure 36, although it wasn't explicit about it. Rather, it featured a woman from Lake Oswego asking the viewer to imagine not having all of the benefits that come with marriage, and observing that gays and lesbians are denied them. It ends with the tagline: "Marriage. It's not that simple."

September 15, 2004

Update

We just noticed that KATU's increasingly-intermittent Town Hall program returns this Sunday at 6:00 PM with a discussion of Measure 36.

Meanwhile, here's an OPB News story on the controversy over one of the pro-36 ads:

One of two television spots by the Defense of Marriage Coalition claims that Ballot Measure 36 doesn't change the Oregon Constitution, but only preserves the status quo. But the measure would in fact amend the state constitution.

This story would appear to be confirmation that they are in fact running such an ad. Not that it surprises us, because the Special Rights for Heterosexuals Coalition is not new to deception in defense of their positions.

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Comments (13)

  1. reedie guy on 15 Sep 2004

    Shameless promotion:

    Paul Brewer, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, will talk on

    "Gay Marriage: The View from the Public"

    Brewer has published a number of scholarly pieces on public attitudes towards homosexuals, gay rights, and gay marriage. He will share his most recent research on trends in public opinion on this important issue.

    4:30 PM on Friday, October 17th at Vollum Lounge of Reed College. This lecture is free and open to the public.

    more information can be found http://web.reed.edu/publicevents.html.

  2. Lea on 15 Sep 2004

    There are several things confusing about comment #1:

    1) The URL should be "http://web.reed.edu/cep/publicevents.html".

    2) October 17th is a Sunday.

    3) The lecture cited does not exist on the current Public Events page.

    I'd love to attend the lecture if it is actually going to happen. Updates, please?

  3. Worldwide Pablo on 15 Sep 2004

    One hesitates to leave a comment here, lest he be visited by the Last Word Syndrome that tends to stifle repeat visits...

    Risking that, allow WWP these points:

    1. The City Council: Who cares? Have you, or anyone you know, ever been swayed to vote differently because of the opinion of city councilors? The City Club? The Oregonian? It's posturing, pure and simple. Who cares?

    2. You breezily identify two of the naysayers as council regulars ... but in fairness, two of the SSM proponents [persons very highly esteemed by WWP, by the way] can also be described as such as well. No?

    3. "Process." It was never about the rightness of the argument, despite the facile insinuation of your post. It was always about outcome, as in: Can and will "process" affect voter turnout and choice? Sad to say, but the evidence and effect of "process" [your words, and few others', it must be said] will be made known all too soon.

  4. The One True b!X on 15 Sep 2004

    As for the second, there was only one naysayer, that being Charles E. Long. Irwin Mandel was not a naysayer. And I identified those people was regulars that I knew from personal experience to be regulars. I have no idea who else may have been a regular, although I did link to coverage of Harris testifying on this subject before other entities on at least a couple of occasions.

    It was never about the rightness of the argument, despite the facile insinuation of your post. It was always about outcome, as in: Can and will "process" affect voter turnout and choice?

    Of course it was never really about the process in and of itself. I've said all along that the process argument was nothing but a smokescreen to hide the actual bigotry behind the push to ban same-sex marriage.

    The last time we had a go-round on process, I said what in the end is the position which draws the distinction between myself and others on this count: I personally believe that the process question was worth the risk because in part because it was time to stop letting the righteous wing so often try to set the agenda on social issues in this state. Starting a fight is always risky. I just happen to believe it was the right risk to take. Others disagree with me and that's fine.

    But at the same time, I remain confused as to why pro-SSM people who also had a problem with the process never chose to realize that expending a lot of argumentative energy against the process only helped feed the flames being whipped up by anti-SSM forces.

    But we've had this particular argument ad infinitum, and I'm fairly certain everyone knows what my position is, and what your position (and that of others here) is, so I won't do more than just that quick re-statement.

  5. The One True b!X on 15 Sep 2004

    For whatever it's worth, I also linked to a prior mention of Kelly Burke, which provides the context that she's a familiar often-seen face on this issue. Links are context as much as explicit statements.

  6. Jim on 15 Sep 2004

    The City Council: Who cares? Have you, or anyone you know, ever been swayed to vote differently because of the opinion of city councilors? The City Club? The Oregonian? It's posturing, pure and simple. Who cares?

    This seems to take the myopic view that all that’s important here is the outcome of this election — who wins and who loses — as if that will settle it, no matter which way it goes. I realize that this is conventional electo-political thinking; but success in finding equal rights for gay and lesbian Oregonians — a task that so far has spanned generations, with more to come — is better measured by other indicators.

    For the entire City Council of the state’s largest city to go on record as opposing constitutional bullying is an unprecedented milestone. No, it may not sway voters, but that’s not to say it doesn’t improve the lives of our neighbors. I spoke with three young gay guys (ages 14 and 16) today who said that as a result of Leonard’s courage, and the full Council’s support, they are looking over their shoulder a little less, and are feeling just a little stronger. Someone with privilege and power has their back, and it's the first time they've seen it.

    To answer your question, they are the people who care. And I care about them.

  7. Scott Jensen on 15 Sep 2004

    I think the entire council have done the right thing. I'm impressed with Commissioner Leonard.

  8. The One True b!X on 15 Sep 2004

    Much to my chagrin, this post elsewhere didn't result in a trackback ping referencing this post. But I just saw it in our referer logs, so I figured I'd mention it in a comment.

  9. Evan on 16 Sep 2004

    Of course, were Francesconi to remain consistent with the reasoning he used to oppose the Iraq war resolution, he would have voted against this resolution as well.

    A statewide ballot measure is not the business of the City Council, just as a federal decision to go to war is not the business of the City Council. Clearly, both issues impact Portlanders, but if Jim were consistent, he'd be saying "no" to this. That is, if the whole "not my jurisdiction" argument were genuine.

    Clearly, there's some desire to make sure that the City Council agenda isn't inundated with things that aren't its thang. But a few issues should rise to the level of City Council dealing with them regardless of official jurisdiction, and this (and I would argue the Iraq war) should be among them.

    And surveys show that people DO care about the opinions of the people they've elected. As most people choose surrogates to figure out their issues for them in politics (granted, probably not the 1% of folks who read blogs like these), having more public figures listed on the "no" side is a good thing.

    That said, this issue may be a bit different, generally relying on people's deep religious beliefs or personal experience, i.e. if they know a gay person.

  10. Pax on 16 Sep 2004

    "To a fairly small group present for the Council session, only eleven people testified on the resolution. Of those, only one testified against it. Several of those who testified were gays and lesbians in committed relationships."

    It seems that most testified against the measure, and it should read "Only one testified for {the measure}"

  11. reedie guy on 16 Sep 2004

    Lea,

    SORRY!!!
    SEPTEMBER 17th, this Friday, at 4:30.

    It is not on the calendar but I guarantee that it is happening. You can call 503-777-7752 to get assurance.

    My apologies.

  12. doretta on 16 Sep 2004

    PAX,

    People were testifying not about the measure, but about the city council resolution against the measure.

    Those testifying for the resolution were against the measure and vice versa.

  13. The One True b!X on 16 Sep 2004

    It seems that most testified against the measure, and it should read "Only one testified for {the measure}"

    No, because people were testifying for or against the resolution that was before Council.

Trackbacks (3)

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