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Gay Rights Activists Make Last Stand in Still-Divided Oregon

By Sarah Kershaw and James Dao

The New York Times -- With the recent passage of two state ballot measures banning gay marriage, opinion polls and advocates on both sides of the debate say similar initiatives are likely to be approved in as many as 10 other states in November, leading advocates of gay marriage to pour money and manpower into a last stand in Oregon.

“Everything seems to point to a tougher battle in Oregon than it has been elsewhere,” said Gary Bauer, chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, a political action committee supporting “defense of marriage” amendments. “But I still think my side’s got a good chance there.”

From deeply conservative southern states like Georgia and Mississippi to Midwestern battlegrounds like Ohio and Michigan, the proposed gay-marriage bans appear on the ballots in 11 states, and opinion polls show widespread support. A recent poll in The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky., found that nearly three-quarters of the public in the state supported the ban. Last month, voters in Missouri and Louisiana approved constitutional amendments banning gay marriage by similar margins.

“We’re going to lose a whole lot of them this year,” said David Fleischer, director of organizing and training for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which has contributed $500,000 to the campaign to defeat the ban in Oregon, far more than it has to any other state.

Fleischer and other advocates of gay marriage acknowledge that Oregon may be the only state in which voters could deliver gay rights groups a victory. National and local gay and civil rights groups say Oregon is crucial to their cause, if only to show that the right mixture of money, message and organization may at least make winning possible -- thus establishing a model that could be used in states likely to face gay-marriage battles in coming years.

“We’re feeling good about Oregon,” said Seth Kilbourn, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group in Washington, D.C.