PORTLAND, Ore. -- Four county commissioners who unilaterally decided earlier this year to let gay couples get married in the Portland area are facing a backlash that could cost them their jobs.
Two of the Multnomah County commissioners, Lisa Naito and Maria Rojo de Steffy Steffey, are up for reelection on Tuesday. If they win, they could still face a recall effort by opponents of gay marriage, as could the two other commissioners: Serena Cruz and Diane Linn. A recall vote could take place this summer.
On March 3, the four commissioners met privately and decided, among themselves, with no public hearings, that the county would begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That infuriated many, including the Christian right, a major force in Oregon's Republican Party.
John Belgarde, state director for the Christian Coalition of Oregon, which heads the recall effort, said the problem is not what was done, but how.
The fifth commissioner, Lonnie Roberts, who favors civil unions but not gay marriages, was left out of the decision.
More than 3,000 same-sex couples tied the knot until April 20, when Multnomah County Judge Frank Bearden halted the weddings but recognized those that had taken place. He told the Legislature to pass a law giving same-sex couples the same rights as married couples or he would allow a resumption of gay weddings. But the issue may go to the state Supreme Court.
The furor may not be enough to cost the commissioners their jobs. It is possible the commissioners will be able to survive the furor. Portland, the largest city in Oregon, is a liberal bastion in a state that has many conservative regions. And Naito and Rojo de Steffey's primary opponents are not well known. Also, polls indicate that 57 percent of county residents do not like the way the commissioners acted, but that only 37 percent favor a recall.
"I don't have a problem with same-sex people getting married," said Marla Sandoval of rural Multnomah County. "I wish they hadn't done it the way they did. But I think the people who are after [the commissioners] just don't want people like that marrying."
The commissioners' foes are collecting signatures to try to hold a recall.
Commission chairwoman Diane Linn, the chairwoman of the commission who took part in the gay-marriage decision but whose term is not up until 2006, recently issued a lengthy apology for not involving the public in the decision. But she stood firmly by her commitment to same-sex marriages.