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A Year of Gay Marriage Confusion

While the issue of gay marriage and civil unions is still alive and kicking in the Oregon Supreme Court and the the state legislature, the furor over the actions of Multnomah County commissioners has largely died out.

Perhaps the best indication of that is the effort the county has recently launched.

It's soliciting photos and written memories of the event from the general public for an archive at the Oregon Historical Society.

Kristian Foden-Vencil offers this retrospective.

March 3rd, 2004 was a cold and rainy day. But the scene outside the Multnomah County building in Southeast Portland was anything but grey.

As protesters marched up and down, preaching on the evils of Sodom and Gomorrah, hundreds of couples, in everything from sweats to tuxedos, waited anxiously in line.

They clutched bunches of roses or carnations, hastily bought from the local grocery store, and talked of the excitement of getting hitched and getting the day off from work.

Christopher and Jeff Baum, were up at three in the morning to get a good spot in line.

Christopher Baum: "You know I was in the kitchen and it came on the news last night and we just decided it was worthwhile coming down."

Kristian: You're going to get married presumably?

Christopher Baum: "Yes."

Kristian: "Have you thought about doing it before?"

Christopher Baum: "We actually had a wedding ceremony a year and a half ago, we had a big wedding, but we didn't have anything legally protecting us. So we have a mortgage, we have kids, so if something happened to one of us, how would the other take care of it without a legal right in which to do so?"

Protestor: "You're vile, you're vile in God's eyes. You're vile and you're wicked."

And what did the affianced make of the supposed eternal damnation of their souls?

Christopher Baum: "I really believe everyone has a right to their opinion, they have their rights to their opinion, just like we do. I'm sorry that theirs comes across so hateful."

After the initial rush of marriages -- many conducted right there on the sidewalk -- the carnival atmosphere faded. But by April 20th, when the State Supreme Court eventually issued an injunction against the county, 3022 gay and lesbian couples had walked the proverbial aisle.

Sound of creaky door and dog

Kristian: "Hi,"

"Hi, how you doing?"
"Get back doggy."

A year later, Joan Logan and Maureen Audell live with their dog Zoe in a restored old Portland home in the Sellwood neighborhood.

They got married during those first frantic days. In their late 60's and early 70's, the two grey-hair ladies laugh at their status as social trailblazers. And they say the significance of their actions was the farthest thing from their minds.

Joan Logan: "But after we did it. We realized that we had dome something historic. We got to be a part of something important. Yeah. It was great. We're one of the Oregon 3000 couples and that's a very fun thing."

They also take a philosophical view of any court case or measure that could potentially annul their marriage.

Maureen Audell: "It will be legal in our minds, for us. And that's what means something. Whatever they do now, they really can't take that away."

Joan Logan: "Well it's just like a heterosexual couple, that's been in a relationship for years. If some political thing happened in the country and somebody said to them, oh by the way, you're no longer married. They'd say, what do you mean? You're crazy. And that's what we would say, although we will fight for this to be legalized permanently. So that it's not that it doesn't matter, it's just that it won't change our relationship."

Logan and Audell were one of many couples married by Portland's First Unitarian Church associate minister, Tom Disrud.

Now, sitting in his small Portland office, Disrud says the weddings gave him a heady feeling, which climaxed during a church service -- the Sunday afterwards.

Tom Disrud: "When they read off all the names of the couples, the congregation stood and cheered and this has been a wonderful time of inspiration and energy in the congregation. People have been very pleased that we've taken a public stand. We've had a banner on the side of our church for a year that we support civil rights, civil marriage is a civil right. So that's been very important for us."

Disrud says the first few weeks were ugly too. The hate mail that sticks in his mind explained that: "All gays should be killed," and it was addressed and signed by a neighbor. But Disrud predicts, Oregonians will look back in 40 years and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Tom Disrud: "I look back to the time 25 years ago when I was in high school. And if you would have told me that in 2004 that I would be officiating at marriages for same sex couples. I think it would have been equally likely that I would be living on the moon. And so things change."

Across town in the Multnomah County building, commissioner Maria Rojo de Steffey sits in her corner office and answers a question she's been asked before: With all the criticism that no public input was gathered before commissioners decided to issue the marriage licenses, does she wish they'd done things differently?

Maria Rojo de Steffey: "I truly believed then and believe now that it is a constitutional right of these folks to be married. So I feel strongly that I did the right thing. And people say oh, you should have processed it more. Well we might have processed it more, but I still believe I would have made the same decision."

Lonnie Roberts, the lone Multnomah County commissioner cut out of discussion over issuing same-sex marriage licenses, is simply pleased that the issue was eventually put to a vote of the people.

He says the passage of Measure 36 last November means Oregonians want marriage to be only between one man and one woman.

While the measure is now tied up in a legal battle, regardless of the outcome, work on the archive will continue.

Maria De Steffey has written a few paragraphs and collected a few pictures, which she plans to add to the gay-marriage collection being archived by the county.

Once they've been displayed in the lobby, everything will be handed over to the Oregon Historical Society.

Museum spokesman, Ken Dubois, says it'll be added to a collection they have called the 'Gay and Lesbian Archive of the Pacific Northwest.'

Ken Dubois: "Naturally we're glad to accept the material. It's historical. It's interesting now, and it'll be much more interesting 20 or 30 or 50 years from now."

The archive will be filed along with the society's 1914 Meier and Frank Delivery Truck, its first edition Corps of Discovery volume, and its collection of 1960 patio furniture.

By Kristian Foden-Vencil, OPB
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