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What Straight Allies (Or Actually Everybody) Can Do for Gay Marriage

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BACK IN 2004—in the midst of a Karl Rove-stoked national panic—voters in Oregon and 10 other states decisively banned same-sex marriage and tacitly endorsed discrimination as the law of the land.

Measure 36, which amended the Oregon Constitution, was a low point for a state that's had several, advocates say, when it comes to its treatment of its LGBTQ community [see "Made in Oregon: Homophobia!"1 for the gruesome details]. The measure claimed 57 percent of the vote statewide—winning not only in rural counties but also in Portland's suburbs and most of its larger towns.

In the aftermath, two painful lessons slowly began to emerge: Voters needed a reminder that marriage amounts to something deeper than politics and constitutional rights. And all the rest of us straight non-bigots—who may have passively watched a vote that (we thought) wouldn't directly affect our lives—should have done way more to get involved.

Feel bad. But don't feel too bad. Because we've finally got another chance to change that awful history.

After years of watching poll numbers drift into the realm of political reality, Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) is pushing for a ballot measure meant to cancel Measure 36 next fall, in 2014. It's long awaited. It comes after popular votes in three states, including Washington, which finally went the right way. It's also going to be a fight. Enemies of tolerance, scared and well funded, are lurking. Oregon, with its rural-urban, red-blue divide, is a potent test case.

And that's why BRO and the thousands of volunteers lining up on its side need your help.

"It's going to be the largest volunteer effort Oregon has ever seen," says Dave Mathews, lead field organizer for the official campaign, Oregon United for Marriage. "Any way people can get involved over the next 17 months, we're going to need them."

Here's a handy guide to help get you started!

DON'T WAIT. GET MARRIED.

Are you in love? So much in love, and so convinced it's right, that you and your partner want to get married and make it official and share that commitment with everyone else you love? Good. Then do it.

Don't wait or hold back because you don't think it's fair you're allowed to get married but some of your LGBTQ friends and loved ones can't. Go for it. And do some good for the movement by reminding people why marriage is so special.

When Thalia Zepatos and her husband, Mike, finally wed after years of holding off, they placed a promise to promote marriage equality among their vows.

"It's better to get married and use that opportunity," says Zepatos. "That emotional moment around a wedding is a great way to reopen a conversation for someone who thought back in 2004 when Measure 36 was on the ballot that [same-sex marriage] 'doesn't sound like a good idea.'"

Liz Fuller and State Representative Brent Barton used their 2011 engagement party to raise money for BRO—a couple thousand dollars, Fuller says.

"It's telling our friends that it matters to us," she says. "We have friends from all different sectors. And we did reach some new people who otherwise wouldn't be as aware of the work BRO was doing."

Zepatos, who lives in Portland but works for the national group Freedom to Marry, says making the argument about the heart and not the mind—the drive to have a family to love and protect—has been an unsung factor in rising poll numbers nationwide.

"As a team, we really turned around the way the movement is talking about marriage," she says. "That has led to exponential growth in support." 

KEEP TALKING. TO EVERYONE.

Marriage, of course, isn't for everyone. Or maybe you're just not ready. Fine. It happens! That doesn't mean the same principles don't apply: The more you get people talking about marriage equality, and thinking about what marriage means in their own lives, the better it is for winning supporters.

Bring it up the next time you have a birthday party. Instead of gifts, ask for donations or pledges. Bring it up at the next happy hour. Bring it up at your book club. Bring it up when you call your brother and high school friends back in Bend.

Mathews says it's vitally important "not to assume" that just because someone you know seems agreeable and is great and isn't a homophobe or otherwise weird, that they're not conflicted about marriage.

Ask what someone's thinking—and not in a way that puts them on the defensive or makes them say what they think you want to hear. If they admit feeling ambivalent, start a conversation.

"It's not about changing someone's mind in a single talk," says BRO spokeswoman Amy Ruiz, "but about sharing your values, and starting the conversation."

Adds Mathews: "In campaigns past, people we thought were on our side, because we thought they were good people, ended up voting the wrong way."

GET INVOLVED.

This one's a no-brainer. All the talk in the world won't matter if BRO and its allies can't raise money or muster the human power needed to get their message out and navigate around the incoming torpedoes from right-wing groups looking to turn Oregon into their own Battle of the Bulge.

The list is big—and it'll change as the campaign evolves over the next several months. But there are some basics.

Stay informed! Signing up at orunited.org/pledge puts your support on record and it means you'll stay in the loop. The more allies who sign up, the more time the campaign can spend targeting undecided voters.

Donate money! Oregon United for Marriage is taking your money at orunited.org/donate. Every penny will help offset an onslaught of out-of-state moral majority cash. If you're feeling generous, you can set recurring payments. Businesses can donate space for fundraisers—so can people who live in nice houses and like to serve wine and cheese. Musicians can volunteer to play for free at said fundraisers.

Volunteer! The campaign is waiting for final ballot language before heading out door-to-door for the thousands of signatures needed to secure a spot on next fall's ballot. That will be a big push that needs a lot of bodies. But other canvassing has already begun. And so has phone-banking. Feeling the fire to win hearts and minds? There's a job for you. More interested in raising money among diehards? There's also a job for you.

Later next year, the campaign will need people to register voters and then persuade those voters to fill in their ballots. The right way. They'll even need people willing to travel across the state to spread the message—since this is about way more than just Multnomah County alone.

If you're shy and retiring, but passionate about marriage equality, bring snacks or spend three hours on a Thursday helping with data entry. A boring job... but essential! And there's music, Mathews says. And jokes.

"It's a lot of fun," he says. "And don't get stuck in the political headspace. We're building a team of people who care about this issue to go talk to other people who care about this issue."

Besides, he says, "a decade of discrimination in the constitution is enough."

CORRECTION: The original version of this article mistakenly identified Dave Mathews as field director. He's the marriage campaign's lead field organizer. The article has been updated to reflect the change, and the Mercury regrets the error.

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