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Oregon Republican Conference Endorses Same-Sex Marriage

Same-sex marriage has a new group of supporters in Oregon. Republicans at the annual Dorchester conference in Seaside Saturday endorsed a measure to legalize same-sex marriage that could be on the ballot this November. The vote was split, with 233 in favor of same-sex marriage and 162 opposed. It came after former Senator Bob Packwood and several other Republicans formed a coalition, Freedom Oregon, to lobby for the measure.

Freedom Oregon issued a press release praising the Dorchester vote. “The Freedom to marry is consistent with the Republican values of freedom, commitment, and personal responsibility,” said Dan Occhipinti, a Portland attorney and one of the leaders in Freedom Oregon. “If you can pay taxes and fight for your country, you should be able to marry the person you love.”

Rick Thomas, a spokesman for the Dorchester conference, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, says its goal has always been to encourage debate within the party and get out on the forefront of controversial issues. “The gay marriage debate today is a big example of that, and a big example of what Dorchester has always been about,” he said.

Last month, several prominent Oregon conservative groups-- Oregon Right to Life, Oregon Family Council, and Common Sense For Oregon-- denounced the Dorchester conference as a publicity stunt. They organized their own event Saturday in Clackamas. Seven hundred people showed up to listen to a range of speakers who oppose same-sex marriage and abortion. Theresa Harke, with the Oregon Family Council, was one of the event's emcees. “Oregonians outside of Multnomah County support the conservative values that were represented today, and there has to be somebody representing that voice," she said.

It’s uncertain whether same-sex marriage will be on the ballot in Oregon in November. The issue could be resolved in the courts instead. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has said she will not defend the state's constitutional ban on same sex marriage.

Copyright 2014 Oregon Public Broadcasting