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PlanetOut: Year later, Oregonians lobby for equality

"Equal rights under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back!" chanted some of the participants in a pro-gay rights march in Salem, Ore., on Thursday afternoon. The event marked one year since same-sex couples began marrying in Portland.

Some of the nearly 1,000 marchers, like Linda Leanne and her partner of 15 years, Joanne Fletcher, were couples who celebrated the anniversary by getting involved in the political fight to protect their marriages.

"I participated because I believe it's important that the citizenry of Oregon see the numbers of people that they are discriminating against," Leanne told the PlanetOut Network.

Inspired last year by actions in San Francisco and New Paltz, N.Y., officials in Multnomah County -- home to the city of Portland -- started granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples on March 3, 2004. Before the wedding parade was halted on April 21 by a judge, 2,968 couples had received licenses.

The marriages have been legally recorded, but a court challenge is pending to determine the legality of those marriages.

Thursday's march, part of a daylong lobbing event at the state capitol, was organized by Basic Rights Oregon, the state's leading LGBT rights group.

Rebekah Kassell, communications director for the group, said the all-day lobbying event aimed to advance three legislative priorities: a statewide nondiscrimination bill, the addition of gender identity to the state's hate crimes law and a civil union bill for same-sex couples.

The courts are also weighing legal recognition for same-sex couples. A lawsuit challenging the state's marriage laws as discriminatory was filed last year, before Oregonians voted in November to amend the state Constitution to forbid same-sex couples from marrying. The ban, however, was challenged in court by marriage equality supporters last month.

"It could take years," Kassell said, before the state's court system finalizes a legal status for same-sex couples.

After Thursday's lobbying event, Leanne and Fletcher said they were tired and mainly interested in finding a good place to have dinner. Though the two women received their marriage license on March 3, they consider the date of their commitment ceremony 10 years ago as the moment they were married.

Unlike some couples, the two women view March 3 primarily as a significant civil transaction. "It's like celebrating my will," Leanne said, "or the buying of an insurance policy."

Tom Musbach, PlanetOut Network
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