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Renewing hope for the future

• Rockwood couple celebrates the overturn of DOMA • Wednesday's Supreme Court decision marks a victory in the gay rights movement


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Carmen Gutierrez, left, and Jensi Albright, Rockwood residents, married Dec. 9, 2012, in Seattle. They await the day their marriage is recognized in Oregon and that they can petition for a green card for  Gutierrez, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, to become a citizen. With a knot in her stomach and shaking hands, Jensi Albright watched history unfold.

Could the announcement be true? She had to peruse multiple websites and TV stations to believe it.

When the news set in that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) had been overturned in a 5-4 vote by the Supreme Court Wednesday, June 26, Albright cried.

A Rockwood resident, Albright married her longtime partner, Carmen Gutierrez, Dec. 9, 2012, in Seattle immediately after Washington’s same-sex marriage law took effect.

Because Oregon allows only domestic partnerships, the marriage certificate does not count here.

On top of that, Gutierrez is an undocumented Salvadorian immigrant. She has lacked the opportunity to gain citizenship the way a heterosexual married partner could through a green card petition.

“A painful large piece of our life is that we are a binational couple with mixed immigration status living the consequences of a broken immigration system, so every day of our life together here is uncertain and acutely precious,” Albright said.

Saturday, Feb. 9, the couple celebrated their marriage with a ceremony at Causa’s annual Immigrant Action Day in Salem, making a political statement in support of both gay rights and immigration reform.

Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision gave them hope their marriage soon could be recognized in Oregon and that they can petition for a green card.

The couple is featured in a documentary, “Love and Country,” which chronicles the life they built together beginning in 2004 and their advocacy in ending DOMA.

“It’s been a long journey with many years of just living and waiting for something to change,” Albright said. “We took a leap of faith to invest in having a future together after years of uncertainty and fear.”

DOMA and Measure 36

Signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, DOMA had defined marriage as a legal union between one man same-sex marriages carried out in other states.

Additionally, DOMA barred same-sex married couples from receiving more than 1,000 federal marriage benefits.

Wednesday’s decision is expected to have a legal effect on Oregon couples like Albright and Gutierrez, who married in Washington state, extending federal marriage benefits to them.by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - The couple met in Portland in 2004, with Gutierrez learning English and Albright practicing her Spanish after teaching ESL for many years. The couple has spent the past decade together.

By declining to decide the Proposition 8 case out of California that would have banned gay marriage there, the Supreme Court is paving way for same-sex marriages in the country’s most populous state. Same-sex partners in Oregon hope their state could come next.

In 2004, Multnomah County began issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, but the licenses later were declared invalid.

That fall, the Defense of Marriage Coalition pushed to pass Ballot Measure 36 in Oregon, amending the state constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The measure passed with 57 percent of Oregonians in favor.

Now state advocacy groups are rallying to overturn the constitutional amendment, with the hope of collecting enough signatures to place a measure on the November 2014 ballot that would grant same-sex couples the freedom to marry.

“It’s urgent and necessary that we pass this,” Albright said.

At the helm of these efforts are Oregon United for Marriage, Basic Rights Oregon, Freedom to Marry and Human Rights Campaign.

Support for gay marriage

The Williams Institute analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census estimated 11,773 same-sex couples are living in Oregon, which equates to 7.8 same-sex couples per 1,000 households.

According to a Public Policy Polling survey from December 2012, 54 percent of people in Oregon would vote to approve same-sex marriage, while 40 percent said they would oppose marriage for same-sex couples.

Organizations such as the Oregon Family Council, however, said the DOMA ruling sent a wrong message.

“That message is that marriage is less about what’s best for children — which in general is having them raised by their married mothers and fathers — and more about the interests of romantically involved adults,” said Teresa Harke, spokeswoman for the Oregon Family Council.

During a year in which a Gresham bakery refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple and an elementary school principal and his attorney alleged his contract was not renewed because of his sexuality, many East County residents found Wednesday a cause for celebration.

“Every step is a step in the right direction for equality,” said Geoff Thompson, a Corbett resident and owner of the View Point Inn. “I’m 52, and look at all the people who pioneered before me and what my pioneering will do for the next generation.”

The Rev. Tara Wilkins, executive director of the Community of Welcoming Congregations, a member of the United Church of Christ and a Fairview resident, said she was overcome with emotion Wednesday.

“We still have to get rid of the discrimination in our state constitution, but this shows we as a nation (are) on a journey to understanding,” Wilkins said. “One of the really important things to note is people of faith support the freedom to marry for LGBT people. There’s a paradigm that it’s God versus gays, and that’s false. There are many clergy right here in Oregon who support the freedom to marry.”

Death of DOMA

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Albright and Gutierrez marked the death of DOMA with two cardboard tombstones in their front yard.For Albright and Gutierrez, Wednesday was momentous occasion in their journey.

Albright drove to find Gutierrez at work that morning and share the news with her. She pulled up a simple graphic on her phone that indicated Gutierrez would now be able to petition for a green card.

“I feel like justice is finally arriving,” Gutierrez said.

Added Albright, “If we stand up, maybe it will make a difference in opening people’s eyes.”

The couple joined hundreds Wednesday night for a “Day of Decision Rally” in downtown Portland.

To mark the end of DOMA at their house, Albright and Gutierrez stuck two cardboard signs in their front yard to look like tombstones.

“DOMA, Sept. 21, 1996-June 26, 2013. Gone but not forgotten.”

“DOMA, Rest in Peace.”




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