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How the Other Half Thinks

Eastern Oregon Talks about Measure 36


Sandy and I discussed Measure 36 during her break outside the Pendleton Wal-Mart.

She supports the measure because "[gay marriage] is wrong according to the Bible." When I asked for a specific passage and whether she knows any gay men or women personally, she appeared primed to spit on me. Instead, she stamped out her cigarette and, without a word, sputtered back to her till.

This is more or less the response I expected when I approached 12 random Eastern Oregonians during a recent jaunt to Heppner, La Grande, and Pendleton. Two weeks ago, I entered area big-box stores, cafes, government buildings, and churches, conducting my own poll to see whether high desert country is the bastion of conservative gay-haters that many Portlanders consider it to be. As it turns out, Sandy was the only person not affiliated with a church that supported the amendment. Each person that opposed 36, however, knew they belonged to a minority--one that didn't make family life any easier.

Jennifer Knox, a waitress in La Grande who opposes 36, claimed her husband and relatives support the measure. Her uncle, interestingly, "votes to kind of spite Portland." Bitter that most statewide elections are dominated by voters in the populous Willamette Valley, he apparently votes according to local consensus.

Bobbi Childers, Chief Deputy Clerk of Morrow County, who intends to vote "no" on 36, was sure her husband supported the ban.

"Most of Morrow County is pretty conservative on issues like that," she said.

Also a county elections official, Childers then dug up the county results on Measure 9, which was voted down in 2000. We discovered that the tallies were not especially lopsided--55% yes to 40% no--and some precincts even showed a majority of no-on-9 votes.

Variations of "if it doesn't affect me, it doesn't bother me what others do" sentiment were common among those I spoke with; Childers confirmed that this laissez-faire attitude is prevalent in her community. Recent measures banning steel animal traps and cattle guards have created resentment towards too much government involvement. Whether Eastern Oregonians will realize a same-sex marriage amendment is similar remains to be seen.

However, if a majority of churches in the area have anything to do with it, voters will recognize 36 as, of course, a savior for a deteriorating society. Inadvertently paraphrasing Reverend Lovejoy's wife (of The Simpsons), a Morrow County minister's wife cited "[Amendment 36] is better for children's sake." Adding the usual specious arguments that "traditional marriage holds society together" and that "allowing same-sex marriages would pave the way for anything--three women and one man, for instance," she, despite her passion on the issue, did not wish to be identified in this article.

Nor did a pastor I spoke with at a La Grande church. Additionally, a Pendleton minister refused my phone calls for seven days, relegating his secretary to answer my questions. After hearing her spout more uninformed Christian rhetoric, I asked her why she/they hold that piece of literature (the Bible) more dear than, say, "Ulysses." She hung up before I could ask if my boyfriend and I could marry at their church.


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