Oregon voters did not punish gay candidates or those supporting gay marriage in Tuesday's primary, despite an aggressive challenge from the Christian Coalition. Conservatives had targeted supporters of gay marriage in response to Oregon's issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples earlier this year--apparently to little effect.
Maria Rojo de Steffey, a Multnomah County commissioner who helped clear the way for the same-sex marriages, sailed back into office in a field of five opponents, all opposed to gay marriage. Her colleague Lisa Naito, one of the most vocal proponents of gay marriage, won 47% of the vote, with two thirds of the vote counted. But because she did not clinch 51% of the vote, she will have to face second-place finisher Ron McCarty, who received 31% of the vote, in November's election.
More than 3,000 same-sex couples tied the knot in Oregon between March 3 and April 20, when a judge halted the weddings. The matter is likely to end up before the state supreme court--where proponents of gay marriages won another victory. Supreme court justice Rives Kistler, the only openly gay state supreme court judge in the country, won with 62% of the tally to 38% for Lake Oswego lawyer James Leuenberger.
Leuenberger, who has represented the antigay Oregon Citizens Alliance, didn 't directly make Kistler's sexual orientation an issue in the race. But the Oregon Christian Coalition did in mass mailings to its members.
In the heated mayoral race in Portland, Oregon's largest city, former police chief and gay rights champion Tom Potter won with 42% of the vote. Potter was the first Portland police chief to march in the city's gay pride parade, and his daughter is a lesbian mother who has lent her name to gay rights causes in the city.
"What this shows is that not only did voters not punish candidates who were supportive of same-sex marriage--by and large they were very supportive of those candidates," said Bonnie Tinker, executive director of Love Makes a Family, Portland's oldest gay rights organization.
Supporters of gay rights in Oregon also pointed to the strong showing for Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, who conceded that Massachusetts senator John Kerry will win his party's nomination but said he would remain on the ballot in Oregon to press issues Kerry is not addressing. Kucinich is a strong supporter of gay marriage, while Kerry supports civil unions. He won 16% of the Democratic vote.
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