Is same-sex marriage on the horizon for Oregon — and the nation?

by Melanie Davis
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Robin Castro (left) and John Halseth have been together almost 18 years. Photo by Julie Cortez, El Hispanic News Robin Castro (left) and John Halseth have been together almost 18 years. Photo by Julie Cortez, El Hispanic News
 
By Julie Cortez, El Hispanic News
  Robin Castro and John Halseth were married once — for a very short time. The brevity of their union was not caused by infidelity, or youthful haste, or disregard for the hard work needed to make a marriage last. Together almost 18 years, Castro and Halseth are, in fact, still very much in love. But after becoming legally wed when Multnomah County briefly granted marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004, their marriage was taken away by a voter-backed amendment to the Oregon Constitution and by the Oregon Supreme Court. “After that, when it became that close, we decided we were going to wait and we’re gonna fight for that right,†Castro said of the couple’s decision not to register as domestic partners after their marriage license was invalidated. “We’re waiting for marriage to be legal right here in Oregon,†Halseth said, “and we’re working hard for that.â€
Hundreds of people packed the sidewalk in front of the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse for the “Portland Rally for the Freedom to Marry†on March 26. Photo by Julie Cortez, El Hispanic News Hundreds of people packed the sidewalk in front of the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse for the “Portland Rally for the Freedom to Marry†on March 26. Photo by Julie Cortez, El Hispanic News
The couple spoke to El Hispanic News during the “Portland Rally for the Freedom to Marry,†held downtown on March 26 to coincide with the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8. When Measure 36 passed in 2004, amending the Oregon Constitution to limit marriage to one man and one woman, Thalia Zepatos — then a local activist and now director of public engagement for the national Freedom to Marry campaign — recalls thinking it could take another 20 or 30 years for Oregon to be ready to seriously consider extending the right to marry to same-sex couples. Just 10 years later, in 2014, marriage equality will once again be put before Oregon voters — and this time supporters are optimistic, both about the state’s chances and the likelihood that the U.S. Supreme Court will rule in their favor come June. “I’m very, very hopeful after the oral arguments in the cases,†Zepatos said. “It was something that we never thought would happen in our lifetime,†Castro said, barely audible above the approving honks from drivers passing the rally. “… To see the support that we have now, versus what we had when we were in our 20s — it’s a totally different world.â€
 “It feels like we’re on this kind of accelerating process of breaking down misinformation,†Thalia Zepatos says. Photo by Julie Cortez, El Hispanic News “It feels like we’re on this kind of accelerating process of breaking down misinformation,†Thalia Zepatos says. Photo by Julie Cortez, El Hispanic News
Much of Zepatos’ work in recent years has been centered on rallying that level of support — on changing hearts and minds and letting less vocal supporters know they aren’t alone in their opinions. For example, multiple national polls have shown a majority of Latinos support same-sex marriage rights, but it was often a “quiet level of support†within families, Zepatos said. “People were not talking about it too much.†In response, she helped develop Familia es Familia, a partnership of over 20 national Latino civil rights organizations that has produced a website and bilingual brochure focused on spurring conversations in Latino families around LGBTQ issues. The partner organizations — among them the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the National Council of la Raza (NCLR) — are actively communicating to their communities,  that “Gay people are not someone else,†Zepatos said. “Gay people are part of the Latino community, too.†“When one group is denied the dignity and the right to marry, it diminishes us all,†NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguía said in a press release on the day the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments on DOMA and Prop. 8. “We stand with our LGBT brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters, many of whom are Latino, and call upon the Supreme Court to make the right choice and extend the freedom to marry to the LGBT community.†The release went on to argue: “The Supreme Court decision is particularly important for Latinos in immigrant families because many same-sex binational couples are prohibited from petitioning for a foreign-born partner to receive permanent residence and citizenship. Many spouses have had no choice but to return to their country of origin, often separating not only from their partner, but also from their children. In fact, in nearly one-half of the binational LGBT couples facing separation, one of the partners is Hispanic.†Castro and Halseth’s more basic motivation for wanting to be legally wed is the desire to ensure they can care for each other as they approach retirement age, but to them it’s also about fundamental fairness — and they are heartened that so many people seem to be moving toward the same conclusion. “I think people are finally realizing not only the reality that same-sex marriage is equality, but also that it’s good for society,†Castro said. “… It is so overwhelming sometimes when we see the amount of support we have now. I would just say thank you to everybody, because this is not a gay issue; this is an issue that impacts everybody,†he added, tears springing to his eyes. “To see all the support is amazing, and it is overwhelming sometimes, and that could make me cry — but I’m a cry baby.â€
For more information on Familia es Familia, visit familiaesfamilia.org.