Proponents of an Oregon constitutional ban on gay marriage began collecting signatures at a number of churches this past weekend for a petition to place the measure on the November ballot. Sponsors estimate that they collected 5,000 signatures in a dozen Portland churches, and they predict rapid expansion to a statewide effort involving 1,500 churches and several thousand volunteer petition gatherers. They will need to gather at least 100,840 valid signatures by a July 2 deadline to qualify the measure for the ballot. "Collecting that many signatures in this short amount of time is something that's never been done before," said Tim Nashif of the Defense of Marriage Coalition. "But we are pretty confident and hopeful."
Last Thursday sponsors of the marriage ban received permission from the courts to begin their signature-gathering campaign. They then delivered petitions to the Portland-area churches, which made them available to churchgoers. Starting this coming Sunday, and on every Sunday between now and the July 2 deadline, churchgoers across the state can expect to see petitions being circulated for the same-sex marriage ban, Nashif said. Furthermore, he said, the coalition has heard from 4,000 people who have volunteered to circulate the petitions among their friends, neighbors, and coworkers. "It's not all church-related," Nashif said. "We get a lot of phone calls from people who are not church attenders who are very concerned about this issue."
However, the head of Basic Rights Oregon, the state's leading gay rights group, said the antigay campaign is mainly a religion-based effort. "I hope voters recognize that this is a group of churches using religious institutions to write discrimination into the constitution," said Roey Thorpe, the group's executive director. Thorpe also said gay rights supporters are assuming that Nashif's group will be able to collect enough signatures and that both sides will raise millions of dollars for the fall campaign. "It's going to be a costly campaign, both in terms of the amount of money spent and the fact that it will be a nasty and divisive issue at a time when Oregonians need to come together," she said.