SALEM, Ore. – Opponents of same-sex marriage (search) submitted a record-high number of signatures Wednesday to place a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay nuptials on the ballot.
The 244,587 signatures amassed by the Defense of Marriage Coalition (search) — more than twice the necessary amount — was the highest number of signatures ever submitted for an initiative measure in Oregon's history.
The signatures still need to be verified by state elections officials by Aug. 1. Only 100,840 signatures need to be valid for the proposed constitutional amendment to be placed on the November ballot.
A gay marriage measure could affect other political races — especially the presidential contest in this battleground state.
Oregon Republican Party Chairman Kevin Mannix has said he believes the hot-button social issue will bring out conservative voters, which could boost President Bush's (search) chances of defeating presumed Democratic candidate John Kerry (search) in Oregon.
In March, commissioners in Multnomah County, Oregon's largest and most liberal enclave, directed employees to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. More than 3,000 were issued before a judge halted the process to give state lawmakers and the state's highest court a chance to weigh in.
Five weeks ago, backers of a law banning gay marriage — similar versions of which already exist in 39 states — launched their drive to place a proposed constitutional amendment on November's ballot.
Legislatures in five states — Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah — have placed similar amendments on this November's ballot, while voters in Missouri will consider the issue in August. In Arkansas, Michigan, Ohio and Montana, citizen drives like the one in Oregon are under way.
Basic Rights Oregon, the state's leading gay rights group, said it will launch a statewide campaign to defeat the measure.
Both sides said they plan to spend at least $1.5 million each to get their message to voters.