The push for gay marriage in Oregon kicked off Friday in Ashland as petitioners hit the streets to begin gathering the 116,284 signatures needed to qualify the effort for the November 2014 ballot.
"This has been a long time coming. I want to marry my wife," said Gina Duquenne, after a 20-minute training in how to gather legal signatures of Oregon voters. "We're domestic partners and have been together 15 years, but domestic isn't good enough. I want to be accepted, not just tolerated."
The Ashland effort was part of a coordinated launch of the petition drive around the state. Petitioners have until July 3, 2014, to gather the necessary signatures.
The local training was provided by Oregon United for Marriage at the Ashland Unitarian Universalist Church. Then Duquenne hit Main Street in quest of the 25 signatures most petitioners signed up for.
The event was overseen by the church's Rev. Leslie Becknell Marx, who performed gay marriages in Massachusetts, where it is legal — and says she stands ready to perform Duquenne's ceremony if it passes here.
"I looked a long time for (my husband) and I know what it is to find the right person," said Marx. "To deny anyone the sacred union they want is heartbreaking to me."
The proposed change would undo a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2004, defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The state Legislature in 2007 legalized domestic partnerships between same-sex couples.
Petitioner Lee Olson says she plans to marry her female partner of 10 years if the proposal passes.
"I strongly support the legal protection of marriage for all citizens and access to all federal rights (per the recent Supreme Court ruling)," says Olson, "as well as the social recognition and equality that comes with it. We didn't do the domestic partnership because it's not the same legal rights and responsibilities as heterosexuals have in marriage."
Olson said she plans to petition friends and family, and then reach out to neighbors.
Petitioners were both gay and straight. Echo Fields says she supports gays "who want to connect their lives to each other and have a chance to get benefits, and basic civil rights that heterosexuals get when they make the decision to marry."
Deborah Rothschild said, "It's about love. This congregation stands on the side of love and marriage equality. There are all kinds of love in the world and it's time to honor them all."
One couple, Maurice Monette and Jeff Jackson of Ashland — who were legally married in California and have been together for 25 years — showed up for the event. Jackson said he feels "extraordinarily supported and cared for" by the changes toward marriage equality in recent months.
Monette, the author of "Gay Married Priest," said he resigned from the Catholic priesthood and is working to "support couples who are loving and committed and want to contribute to society and perhaps have children."
He will speak and read from his book at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at Ashland Unity Church.
The training and petitions forms will be available at the church at 10 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. today and Sunday.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.