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Measure 36: discrimination

Anti-gay marriage language doesn't belong in the Oregon Constitution

Should Oregon's Constitution keep Hispanic people out of Asian restaurants? Should it bar females who want to open businesses? Should it stipulate that you've got to be younger than 55 to stay out past midnight?

We all know the answer: That's discrimination.

So why are Oregonians so eager to approve Measure 36 on the Nov. 2 ballot? Why are we willing to amend the state Constitution to specify that one group of adults ' in this case, gay partners ' can't do what the rest of us can? What makes gay Oregonians so different from any other Oregonians ' Hispanics, females, the elderly?

Because even if forces backing the measure are trying to cloud the issue, that's what Measure 36 embraces: discrimination. And by placing the language in the Constitution, it embraces it in a way that will be hard for Oregon to shake.

Marriage is for many an institution thoroughly intertwined with religion. When we talk about the sanctity of the union, we're talking about religion. When we hold ceremonies to honor it, they are, by and large, religious.

Yet marriage licenses are issued by the government, an arena in which religion has no place. When government issues a license for anything, it sets in motion legal rights and obligations. It's not about religion.

— We think most of the push to pass Measure 36 is about religion ' about a fear of open gay unions and a worry that the concept of marriage will be damaged if the government begins issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

The Defense of Marriage Coalition, the Oregon group promoting the measure, calls Measure 36 our last chance to preserve marriage, as though gay unions will somehow affect the thousands of heterosexual unions that take place in Oregon every year.

We'd ask: How, exactly? How would allowing gays to marry hurt heterosexual couples or the institution many hold dear?

What if instead we let the Constitution be? It would put the question back in the hands of the courts, which might be inclined to follow the lead of a Washington judge who last month struck down a law similar to Measure 36.King County Superior Court Judge William Downingsaid it would be arbitrary for government ' which doesn't have religious ties, which doesn't judge sin ' to deny marriage licenses to people just because they're gay.

It's no coincidence that this logic sounds like the logic of hundreds of court rulings over the last few decades, logic that has worked to end discrimination.

When it was penned in 1859, Oregon's Constitution prohibited black people from living in this state, language that remained for 70 years, until its ugliness became clear.

Let's not go down that road again.