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DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: The Dream of 2004 is Alive in Portland

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Don't Shoot the MessengerI’ve never gotten over the feeling of March 3, 2004. I was walking through downtown Portland, enjoying a beautiful—for Portland—spring day. And while the sun was sort of shining and birds were chirping, there was something else: an electricity to the air. Everywhere there were people running and smiling, positively ecstatic. That’s not a common thing in Portland’s rainbow of gray, but it felt bigger than just a few shiny happy people holding hands.

Just after I passed a huge line in front of a city building—and figured that there must be a lot of people in traffic court that morning—I noticed The Oregonian’s headline in a newspaper box: Multnomah County had started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

It was like a more bureaucratic version of watching the Berlin Wall being torn down. The sense of joy to witness it was so overwhelming I nearly started crying in the middle of the street.

Of course nothing gold can stay. The bigoted backlash began swiftly. Measure 36 was put on the ballot and I spent election night at a nightclub with a lesbian friend, watching as she was officially made a second-class citizen and much of the nation became an uglier place. The next morning felt like an especially vicious hangover. Used to open discrimination, my friend shrugged and moved on.

On June 26, after a decade-long legal fight, Supreme Court finally stepped in and with no ambiguity gave state bans on same-sex marriage the kibosh. Justice Kennedy’s opinion should be hammered into marble.

“It would would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”


But it should not be lost in the victory that there is, as The Onion put it, “only 47,000 more social justice milestones to achieve before U.S. achieves equality.”

Chief among them regarding marriage equality is that there are no federal anti-discrimination protections for gender identity or sexual orientation. In the dozens of states that lack those protections couples can now get married in the morning and fired from their jobs or evicted from their apartment in the afternoon.

Those legal protections are especially important as America gains a deeper understanding of what it means to be transgender through high-profile figures like Laura Jane Grace, Lana Wachowski, Laverne Cox, Chelsea Manning, Chaz Bono, and now Caitlyn Jenner.

Thankfully, Oregon is not one of those states. But that doesn’t mean we should sit back and rest on our laurels. Oregonians have lead the nation before, on death with dignity, recycling, banning the psychological torture colloquially known as gay conversion therapy, legal marijuana, and on March 3, 2004, when we lead the way on marriage equality.

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkeley has called for a federal amendment banning housing and employment discrimination, and everyone that found the time to turn their Facebook avatar rainbow should use whatever tools are available to do the same, and not rest until the legal protections that make our state great are available to all. Only then will the freedom to marry will be truly available to all.

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