Ed Smith-Burns, deputy director of Addictions Recovery Center in Medford, says telling the story of his life with his partner helps persuade people to sign a petition supporting gay marriage in Oregon. - Jamie Lusch

Supporters see chance for change on ballot

Supporters of gay marriage say they now have enough signatures, more than 160,000, to get a measure on the Oregon ballot, but to pass it in November, they will need to ramp up registration of young voters and raise $12 million.

That was the view of Ryan Brown, field director for Oregon United for Marriage, as he spoke to a house party of 20 people Feb. 16 in Ashland.

The key to getting signatures and votes in November is making personal contact and having a conversation about why marriage is important, Ed Smith-Burns said at the gathering.

"I tell them my story, about how we've been together 12 years and built a life," Smith-Burns said. "As we're starting to transition to being seniors and retiring, it brings lifestyle changes, financially, supporting each other if we're sick and making decisions for each other. Then there's inheritance.

"For me, it's about the ability to have security in my future and take care of my partner in a meaningful and loving way that benefits us and our community."

Smith-Burns, the Stonewall Caucus chairman of the Jackson County Democratic Party, has been out gathering signatures, mostly in Medford, he said.

"It's going remarkably well," he said. "I'm surprised at our community. I've collected several hundred signatures, a lot of them Republican. They feel there's long been discrimination about marriage being one man and one woman."

Backers may face a competing measure in the November election. Teresa Harke of Portland has filed for a measure that would allow exemptions from unlawful-discrimination laws for businesses or individuals — such as cake decorators, ministers, venues — who refuse to participate in gay marriage because it would violate their religious beliefs.

Harke declined to comment on the phone but forwarded a news release.

"We are confident that Oregonians will rally behind this cause to protect religious freedom and individual conscience rights," the release said.

At house parties in the area, gay-marriage supporters are being asked for financial donations to help make Oregon the 18th state where same-sex marriage is legal.

Gina DuQuenne, president of Southern Oregon Pride, told the Ashland gathering that money from house parties is adding up fast and will lead to opening of an Oregon United for Marriage satellite office in Ashland soon.

"People tell their love story. That's what does it," said DuQuenne, who began collecting signatures on Valentine's Day last year, the first day it was allowed. "My partner and I are going to get married in Oregon as soon as we can. We're going to stand up proudly with our two children and our grandchildren. It's so important to stand up and celebrate it."

Her partner of 16 years, Josh Willow, said the gay community believes passage is certain in November.

"People have become aware we're out here and we're not strange and weird. People in the public eye have come out, so people say, 'Well, I guess I can like them.'

"When it passes, we'll be on the phone calling all our family and shouting, 'We did it!'"‰"

One backer, 92-year-old Maryline White of Ashland, said her partner of 40 years, Louise, died in 1999, which among other things resulted in a loss of $22,000 in state and federal tax money because they were not married.

"I'm a money person on this issue," said White. "Others are all soft and gooey about it, but not me. It's very important to have all the protections and stature marriage brings. Also, I got so tired of saying we were cousins or sisters. No one was out then."

The $12 million supporters predict will be needed for passage "makes my heart stop, to think about it," said Brown.

"It's an overwhelming figure, but we're up against some very big pockets and have to do it. People are ready for this."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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