I apologize for the somewhat unwieldy node title, but categorizing Oregon's myriad of ballot measures sometimes leads to such clumsy descriptions as this. Oregon's government is (strangely enough) based heavily on The Oregon System, which includes a system of referring many questions to voters, including some that in any other state would be handled by the legislature without much thought. Oregonians have voted on whether denturists were allowed to go into business with dentists (they were), and whether mobile homes should be considered houses and not vehicles (they were).

But every once in a while a ballot measure comes along that redefines the political landscape, and 1992's Ballot Measure 9 was one of those. Seventeen years later, it is still the "Measure 9" to Oregonians. The measure, put forward by the Oregon Citizen's Alliance, was a measure to prevent government from condoning homosexuality (along with other paraphilias). It was an opening shot in the so-called culture wars in Oregon, and helped form the stereotypical division of Oregon into an urban and rural divide. Not that all of that was clear at the time. At least, it wasn't clear to me, but I had just turned 13 as this controversy was going on.

Not that my 13 year old self had a perfect grasp on political or social trends, but as far as I can remember, before 1992 homosexuality didn't exist as a serious issue. It was of course, a part of schoolyard insults, but I can't remember it being an issue other than that. But during 1992, it became a gigantic issue, and a rallying cry for the many people who were put off by what seemed a bullying and backwards fringe group. The Oregon Voter's Pamphlet was full of arguments and invective for and against the measure. Some of the supporting arguments were quite graphic---such as the description of what fisting entails, which seemed a little out of place in a book of political discussion. There was also a hilarious faux "For" argument, saying that once this was passed, other parts of Leviticus would be implemented, including the banning of mixed fibers and shellfish.

On election day, the measure failed, although not by a margin that would make its opponents comfortable. Much of Oregon, such as the urbanized centers, rejected it out of hand, and many people probably rejected it because it was very ambiguously worded. The prohibition of governments from "promoting homosexuality" would extend to libraries, which would mean any book dealing with homosexuality could be banned. Including, of course, the idea that any book that mentions homosexuality could be drawing attention to it and thus "promoting" it. The specter of librarians searching through the libraries to throw out any book that could be seen as tangentially "promoting" homosexuality seemed to be a very strong argument against the measure.

After the measure's defeat, the Oregon Citizen's Alliance tried several times to pass similar measures, but they had missed their window of opportunity: the demographic shift was making Oregon much more liberal, and they would never be able to pose a serious challenge again.

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