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Couples celebrate 'a magic time'

This being their first wedding anniversary, Joanne Fletcher and Linda Leanne plan to head to Portland for a nice dinner, a possible visit to the zoo, maybe even a nostalgic visit to the Multnomah County government office where they said their sidewalk "I do's."

But first they'll stop in Salem for a rally in front of the state Capitol. It was a year ago today that Leanne and Fletcher joined more than 400 other couples who lined up for marriage certificates being issued for the first time to same-sex couples. Like the majority of others who received licenses that day, they were married on the spot by a minister they'd never met before.

The elation they say they felt that day has since been tempered, especially after Oregon voters in November approved Ballot Measure 36, which amends the state constitution by restricting marriage to one man and one woman.

But for now at least, the Eugene couple remain legally married and so intend to celebrate - beginning with the political rally in Salem.

"We're hoping to bump into some of the people we stood in line with for four hours a year ago," said Fletcher, a Lane County foster care coordinator. "If more people meet us, they'll realize we're just regular people."

Political support is sought
At today's "marriage equality" campaign, gay rights advocates from across the state - including a contingent leaving from Eugene's Alton Baker Park early this morning - will gather to shout slogans, attend workshops and pigeonhole legislators.

Supporters plan to push a bill that would expand Oregon's anti-discrimination law to protect citizens discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

They also will lobby for legislation that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, giving them the same legal rights and privileges that heterosexual couples enjoy via marriage.

Even though voters approved Ballot Measure 36 by 57 percent, most Oregonians support the concept of civil unions and the idea that gays and lesbians should be protected from discrimination, said Rebekah Kassell, communications director for Basic Rights Oregon.

"This is the greatest level of visibility, both in the Legislature and around the kitchen table of average Oregonians, that we've ever had," she said. "Civil unions were considered a pretty radical idea a year ago, and now it's a moderate fall-back position."

But two significant forces - organized political opposition and pending judicial rulings - still stand in the way of Kassell's group's goals.

The Oregon Supreme Court has yet to rule on a claim that a ban on gay marriages violates a constitutional clause granting the same "privileges and benefits" to all citizens. A lawsuit challenging Ballot Measure 36's constitutionality, meanwhile, is still pending in Marion County Circuit Court.

Some don't see a problem
The Defense of Marriage Coalition, meanwhile, is opposed to expanding the state's anti-discrimination law to include sexual orientation and to the idea of civil unions that benefit only same-sex couples, said Tim Nashif, the coalition's political director.

There is little evidence to suggest Oregonians are discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation, Nashif said.

"There might be some isolated cases, but nowhere near the level to be deemed a problem" requiring legislative protection, he said.

Rather than civil unions, Nashif said the coalition is advancing a "reciprocal benefits" bill that would extend medical, inheritance and other certain rights to a range of people - two siblings or two widowers or a grandchild and grandparent, for example, but not solely to same-sex couples.

"We don't believe Oregonians, when they passed Ballot Measure 36, intended to give every single benefit of marriage" to same-sex couples via civil unions, Nashif said. "It would basically gut marriage."

Paula Franklin, a nurse from Harrisburg, said she and her partner, licensed tax consultant Nancy Corr, had already been together 25 years before becoming legally married a year ago today. "I don't know how to describe it, but there really is a different feeling to being married," Franklin said Wednesday.

Nonetheless, she said she thinks there's "a 50-50 chance" her marriage will eventually be declared null and void.

"Even if the courts rule it's legal, the opinions of so many people are still so negative," she said, adding that she could be satisfied with the idea of a legal civil union, "if that's the best we can do."

But Leanne and Fletcher say they cringe at that idea.

"The problem with incremental steps is, it's a pacifier," said Leanne, a voice coach. "I don't want people to be pacified. If there's prejudice against one minority, there's prejudice against all, whether people acknowledge it or not."

Leanne, 51, said she's navigated a tough year - her ex-husband died of lung cancer in February, her mother died in October and she underwent major surgery in December - and that the knowledge she was legally married helped her get through it all.

"Having been married before, I knew there was that cultural thing: You hang in there," she said. "It was really clear to me that if not for the longevity of our relationship, all this stuff could have broke us up."

Fletcher, 44, said she tries not to think about her marriage being ruled invalid one day. "It would be infuriating, but not devastating, because honestly, it's what I would expect," she said.

Solidarity amid celebration
In all, Multnomah County issued 3,022 marriage licenses to same-sex couples before being ordered by a judge to stop. Fletcher and Leanne said the Ballot Measure 36 campaign took a personal toll and stole some of the luster of being a part of that group.

But today, they said, is not the day to dwell on such things. Instead, they will enjoy each other's company and reminisce about their wedding day on the streets of Portland.

"I'll never forget the solidarity and the celebration and the honoring of that day," said Leanne. "When we came out of that building with our license, we could have gone straight to our car. But we went all the way around the building instead, to cheers and hugs and flowers. It was a magic time."
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