It was Valentine’s Day when I first volunteered for Oregon United for Marriage. The campaign had just launched, and we were busy asking people to sign our petition for a ballot title, the first step in getting an initiative on the ballot. Immediately, I noticed something different about this campaign: unlike many other groups working to legalize same-sex marriage, they consistently talked about “the freedom to marry” rather than “marriage equality.”
I asked why this was, and the answer surprised me. After extensive polling and research, the campaign had found that many voters believe same-sex couples want to marry for different reasons than straight couples. Years of talking about “equal rights” had led people to think same-sex couples are solely concerned with obtaining the legal protections and benefits that married couples receive.
Of course, marriage isn’t primarily about how you file your taxes; it’s about love. The thousands of Oregon couples yearning for the freedom to marry are motivated by the same desire to strengthen their union that leads straight couples to marry.
That’s why Oregon United for Marriage is fighting to remove the discriminatory language of Measure 26 from Oregon’s constitution, because every loving couple deserves the dignity of a marriage.
This campaign is about people more than that, however. Winning the freedom to marry in Oregon is critical because of the message that it would send to young people.
In many communities, growing up gay can be a painfully isolating experience. For young Oregonians who are gay, bisexual, or questioning, seeing their state affirm the worthiness of their love by expanding the freedom to marry would be a source of hope.
I can remember standing in front of my television on election night of 2008, crying as it became apparent Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, was going to pass in my home-state of California. I believe that things will be different in Oregon this November. Our success, however, is not guaranteed. I know that if we are to be successful, it will require the hard work and dedication of thousands across the state.
In the decade since Measure 36 was passed, supporters of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples have had a string of victories. But with so many Oregon couples eagerly waiting to marry their partners, and so many others hoping to do so in the future, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. We must all work together to petition, register, and motivate our neighbors in order to win this fundamental freedom for all Oregonians.
Dylan Sheldon is a student activist associated with Students United for Marriage and the College Democrats of Oregon. Originally from California, he is currently a sophomore at Willamette University.