Young Republican activists and elected officials from across Oregon gave a first-ever endorsement of gay marriage during a weekend conference in Seaside.
The 233-162 vote for support of a ballot measure to legalize marriage for same-sex couples was taken at the 50th annual Dorchester Conference.
Freedom Oregon, one of several groups seeking to overturn Oregon’s current law, said the GOP’s weekend vote sent an unmistakable message that marriage is not a partisan issue.
Democrats across the nation have long advocated for same-sex couples to have the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts.
“The freedom to marry is consistent with the Republican values of freedom, commitment and personal responsibility,” stated Dan Occhipinti, a Portland attorney and one of the Freedom Oregon leaders, in a March 8 press release. “If you can pay taxes and fight for your country, you should be able to marry the person you love.”
Rep. John Huffman, R-The Dalles, did not attend the three-day annual Dorchester Conference in Seaside where the subject of gay marriage was debated. It is typically attended by younger and more moderate Republicans. He said the 2014 legislative session had ended Friday and he was home regrouping after 35 long, and sometimes mentally grueling, days in Salem.
“I wasn’t there but I know what my personal beliefs are on this issue,” he said. “I’m a compassionate and caring person — I’m not discriminatory — so this is a tough one for me.”
Huffman went on record in 2012 to state his personal support for the 2004 amendment to the Oregon constitution that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
“I was born and raised in Missouri so I’ve always held my conservative upbringing dear,” he said at that time.
Although his support of “natural law” hasn’t changed despite the fact that gay marriage is gaining traction around the country, Huffman said his oath of office requires that he respect the will of the people.
“The bottom line is that I uphold the constitution and I uphold the law,” he said. “So if voters approve a law that defines marriage differently then I’m bound to uphold it.”
He represents House District 59 that encompasses western Wasco, Wheeler, Jefferson and northern Deschutes counties.
Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, and Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, whose districts also include Wasco County, could not be reached for comment.
“I oppose discriminating against anyone based on sexual orientation, race or gender and I don’t think people opposing gay marriage are doing that — this is a social issue based on beliefs,” said Huffman.
Freedom Oregon, Basic Rights Oregon and Oregon Say I Do are leading the campaign to overturn the current law that was approved a decade ago by a 57 percent margin of the electorate. They have filed two legal challenges and stated that, if a federal judge strikes down the law as a violation of civil rights, the initiative will not be necessary.
Civil unions were legalized in Oregon in 2008 so that same-sex couples were granted the legal rights of married couples. Huffman said in 2012 that he did not see any need to weigh in on those partnerships because they represented personal liberty.
“You can fill in the blank with a lot of social things that people choose to partake in; it’s their life and it’s their right,” said Huffman during a Monday interview.
Alexis Wolf, a Republican affiliated with Freedom Oregon, attended the Seaside conference and summed up the reasoning behind the GOP vote.
“We don’t believe the freedom to express love and commitment should be limited by government,” she stated in Freedom Oregon’s press release.
Young Republican activists told GOP leaders that they were destined to continue losing elections in Oregon and beyond if they didn’t get behind the issue of gay marriage.
The conference started in 1965 by Bob Packwood, then a state representative, provides a yearly forum to debate issues that divide Republicans. Many political conservatives believe that supporting gay marriage is an abandonment of governing principles founded upon Judeo-Christian values.
Packwood was present for last’s weekend’s conference and urged GOP leaders to “get ahead of the curve, and not behind it.”
Democrats in Oregon currently control all state elected offices, the state House and Senate and four of five Congressional seats.
The GOP hasn’t won a statewide partisan election since 2002, but hopes to reverse that trend due to struggles nationally and locally with the rollout of President Barack Obama’s health care law.