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Gay couples represent 12 percent of recent Jackson County marriage licenses

A few weeks after celebrating on the Ashland Plaza over a federal court ruling that struck down Oregon's voter-approved ban on gay marriage, partners Kathy Bauer and Jolie Johnson say it's the simple realities of married life they cherish the most.

Things such as knowing that if one ends up in the hospital, the other can talk to the physician. Or officially being family to their in-laws. Or even receiving federal tax breaks.

"We always said, and gay people often say this, that marriage is just a piece of paper," Johnson said.

"When you don't think it's something you can ever have, you just don't go there," Bauer added.

But since their Maui wedding last February, the couple, who have been together for 10 years, say they've been surprised at the extra level of comfort and security marriage provides.

"It's almost like an umbrella in the rain," Johnson said.

While Oregon began in October honoring the marriages of same-sex couples who legally married out of state, Bauer said it "is a huge victory" for same-sex couples in Oregon to be able to experience marriage without leaving their home state.

Bauer and Johnson, who are celebrating their marriage with a reception at Grizzly Peak Winery later this month, represent part of a burst of receptions and weddings among same-sex couples in Jackson County since the May 19 ruling.

Twenty-one same-sex Jackson County couples have taken out marriage licenses, according to Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker, representing 12 percent of the total 169 licenses issued by the county between May 19 and June 12.

Gina DuQuenne and her partner, Josh Willow, are among the 21 couples. They will wed this October during National Pride Month after 15 years together.

"I'm already a mom and a grandma, and now I can finally, legally, be a wife," DuQuenne said.

DuQuenne, president of Southern Oregon Pride, said it took days for the ruling to sink in.

"At first, when we got the ruling, everyone was shocked," she said. "Now it's just really exciting to think about. We don't have to go to California or Washington. We can get married right here, where we live, with our friends and families and community."

Walker said she has not performed any wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples yet, but since she has only performed one wedding in the last fiscal year, she wasn't not surprised.

"It's kind of a sign of the economy improving," Walker said. "People are wanting to have bigger weddings."

Bauer and Johnson said they have steadily been receiving invitations for other same-sex weddings and receptions since the ruling.

"The gays getting married in this state and in Washington and California are going to be a bonanza for businesses," Johnson said.

Johnson said many of her gay friends planning weddings are professionals and middle or upper class, and are likely to spend money in Jackson County on ceremonies and receptions, and bring people into the state who will also spend money.

A study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles' Williams Institute in April said that extending marriage to same-sex couples in Oregon would generate nearly $50 million in spending in the state.

Heather Goodwin, owner of An Inspired Affair, a wedding planning service based in Talent, expects the Jackson County wedding industry to benefit from that increased spending.

"I've heard of more and more (same-sex couples) getting engaged, so I expect requests to increase this year," Goodwin said.

Goodwin has not received any requests from same-sex couples since the ruling, but said she is putting out a special next month specifically for same-sex weddings.

Central Point wedding designer Shelly Dunlap, owner of Exclusively Yours Weddings, said she doesn't anticipate a notable economic boost for the Jackson County wedding industry because she has been putting on ceremonies for same-sex couples for years.

"(The ruling) hasn't impacted me," Dunlap said. "Probably because we were pretty open before that ... and we've done many a gay wedding in the past."

In the midst of a busy wedding season, Bauer and Johnson are savoring the knowledge that the years of activism and fighting for gay marriage have paid off in their home state.

"Hearing it (the ruling) was just like the deepest breath you think you could ever take," Bauer said. "Hate will never be over. This certainly doesn't end that ... but maybe I can be done fighting."

Reach Mail Tribune reporting intern Kelsey Thomas at 541-776-4368 or kthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at twitter.com/kelseyethomas.

Jolie Johnson and Kathy Bauer have found marriage provides benefits they hadn't expected but welcome. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Bob Pennell