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.
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."
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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