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It does not have to be this way

As a pastor, I've had the joy and delight of officiating over many weddings. I enjoy meeting the couples and discovering why they want to take their relationship to this next level. While each couple has a unique story to tell, the reasons always come down to the same thing. These caring and committed couples choose to declare their love to their friends and family and they choose the act of marriage to establish their family and protect their loved ones.

As a newlywed myself, I understand and honor their desire to make this choice. Sadly, it is not a choice that all of the loving couples in our community can make. As an open and affirming church, our congregation has many gay and lesbian couples who have had long and stable relationships. I've seen these families love and care for each other through good times and bad, raise children together and serve as stable pillars in our community in many ways. They demonstrate love, commitment and stability just as well as any married couples I know. Yet, they are treated differently under the law. Same-sex couples are denied the legal recognition of their lifetime commitment.

It does not have to be this way. As Oregonians, it's time for us to have a family chat.

Through a vote of the people, Oregon could choose to make civil marriage available to same-sex couples - without changing the meaning of marriage or impacting any church ceremony. All couples who marry in Oregon must get a license for a civil marriage, usually obtained at a courthouse or city hall. This process could (and should) be made available to same-sex couples.

In addition to a civil marriage, some couples currently choose to get married in a religious ceremony, while others do not. This would not change. Nor would extending civil marriage to same-sex couples affect religious marriages, religious institutions or clergy in any way. No religion would be forced to marry same-sex couples, or recognize same-sex marriage within the context of their religious beliefs.

It's time for us to have an open and honest dialogue on this issue. In doing so, it's important to respect our divergent views and seek to understand our common values. I believe that marriage matters. I believe that marriage is sacred. I believe that no committed couple should be denied the opportunity to marry the person he or she loves.

The hard work of marriage makes a relationship stronger. Marriage sends a message to the world that we've made a commitment to protect and care for one another. Any couple who is ready and willing to make such a promise in front of family and friends should be supported in their right to do so.

I pray that as citizens we can begin this dialogue now, without the heated political rhetoric and fervor that so often derails productive conversations. If you are unsure about same-sex marriage, reach out to a gay or lesbian friend or neighbor and talk about what marriage means, and why marriage matters. Let's take time to really listen to one another and discover why marriage matters to you, and why it matters all of us.

Find out how to start a conversation at www.marriagemattersoregon.org.

The Rev. David F. Alexander is a Lake Oswego resident and senior minister at the New Thought Center for Spiritual Living, 1040 C Ave., Lake Oswego.