Country needs to face gay marriage

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In a bold move heretofore unimagined by mainstream American politics, Benton County, Ore., is acting as a whole to espouse the value of sexual tolerance. Last Wednesday, the county told straight couples seeking a marriage license that they would have to wait or leave town to marry until their gay counterparts had the state?s go-ahead to get married in town as well. After handing out the last licenses the night before, officials prepared for the onslaught of media attention.
?It may seem odd,? Benton County Commissioner Linda Modrell told a Reuters reporter via telephone, but ?we need to treat everyone in our county equally.?
Oregon?s Attorney General, Hardy Myers, said he was ?very pleased? with the decision, and that hoped that the legal process would ?provide clarity? in due time.
Meanwhile, conservative watchdog groups howled in consternation: ?We are happy Benton County is not going to violate the law by issuing illegal marriage licenses, but we are perplexed as to why they would not issue legal licenses,? said Defense of Marriage Coalition spokesman Tim Nashit. He called the license ban ?an invitation to a lawsuit.?
Legality is not the issue here. This county is withholding marriage licenses to force a sense of solidarity on Benton?s straight couples, ironically using equality of opportunity to drag them headlong into a sense of understanding about what the business end of inequality feels like.
The law may have a bone to pick with Oregon, though; as of last Wednesday, the ACLU will bring a suit against the state or an unnamed state entity for not recognizing 2550 marriage licenses issued by nearby Multnomah County to gay couples since March 3. Multnomah continues to issue same-sex licenses, even as San Francisco and other bastions of liberalism have stopped, quietly or by force (as in New Mexico, where a restraining order was issued in Sandoval County to stop a clerk from issuing same-sex marriage certificates).
Granted, the media doesn?t seem to be digging up irate, conservative citizens of Benton County, broadcasting their annoyance as proof that the county?s decision doesn?t represent its constituents? will on this matter.
Maybe that?s because doing so wouldn?t serve the media?s laissez-faire moral agenda. But maybe, just maybe, it?s because the citizens of Benton have been put in the unusual position of questioning their assumptions about their neighbors, their rights, and their government.
Yes, the county got angry phone calls and e-mails, but some couples got their licenses a few days ahead of time, and the rest can drive to the next county. Business owners say they?re not worried about loss of revenue and think the situation will be resolved before it can drain money from the local economy.
Kristy Walton, head pastry chef and general manager of New Morning Bakery in Corvallis, would be baking wedding cakes and catering receptions if not for the ban, but when it comes to gay rights, she has bigger fish to fry.
?If I were in that position,? Walton said, ?I would want to be able to have the same rights as anybody else has.?
Some citizens of Benton are angry, no doubt, that their legal rights are being deprived temporarily, and may feel threatened by this temporary inconvenience. But in an age of pure litigious selfishness, it took a largely liberal county like Benton to set an example for the rest of the nation. We don?t know whether change will stem from Benton?s brave stand against the state. We don?t know what the backlash will be. But we now know that government doesn?t have to remain neutral while some of its citizens are trying to keep others from life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Celanie Polanick (celanie@) is a senior drama and professional writing major. She looks forward to marriage ? her own and everybody else?s.