By Hillary Borrud

The Bulletin

Supporters of same-sex marriage gathered for a vigil in downtown Bend Tuesday, on the eve of oral arguments in two federal lawsuits that challenge Oregon’s ban on gay marriage.

Sheryle Robin, 59, and Levanah Skye, 61, were among the more than 60 people who gathered Tuesday evening at the corner of Northwest Wall Street and Newport Avenue. Robin and Skye, who recently moved to Bend, have been together since 1978, when they met at work in San Francisco.

“Our 35th anniversary will be July 3, 2015, and we would really like to get married for our 35th anniversary,” Robin said. “It’s about our rights to stay connected as a family.”

Four couples filed two separate lawsuits seeking to overturn Oregon’s ban gay marriage last year, and U.S. District Judge Michael McShane consolidated the two cases. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced in March that the Oregon Department of Justice would not defend the state’s ban on gay marriage, which voters approved in 2004. The state had already announced last year it would recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

But on Monday, the National Organization for Marriage filed a motion to intervene in the case so that it could argue to keep the state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman. The group asked McShane to delay the oral arguments scheduled for today. McShane said Tuesday that he would allow arguments in the case to continue, and hold a hearing May 14 on the National Organization for Marriage’s motion to intervene.

The National Organization for Marriage wrote in a court document that its members include more than one county clerk in Oregon, although the group did not identify the clerks by name or the counties where they serve. The Oregon law firm representing the National Organization for Marriage referred inquiries to the group’s public relations staff, who did not return a call for comment on Tuesday.

The group Oregon United for Marriage announced earlier this year it has 160,000 signatures, enough to qualify for the November ballot a measure that, if approved, would remove the same-sex marriage ban. However, the group decided to await the outcome of the court case, after Rosenblum announced the state would not defend the ban.

Peter Zuckerman, a spokesman for Oregon United for Marriage, said the group is waiting to see if McShane will rule by May 23.

“We’re going to win the freedom to marry this year, whether it’s through the courts or through the ballot box,” said Zuckerman said. “We had said that if we get a ruling by May 23, we would withdraw our effort to put it on the ballot.”

The state legislature passed a law to allow domestic partnerships in 2007, but one of the federal lawsuits describes these unions as a “separate and unequal institution.”

Katie Wendel, 57, of Bend, said in an interview Tuesday the case will impact her family, because she has a gay son and a gay nephew.

“I want them to be treated the same as everyone else and have the same rights as everyone else,” Wendel said. Wendel said her son “would be a wonderful family man and parent, and everyone should have the right to come home to someone they love, and every parent wants that for his or her child. I’ve been married for over 30 years, and I’m sure glad that I have that. I’m hoping everyone can have that.”

At the vigil Tuesday night, Becky Groves, 52, of Prineville, said her son and his partner currently live in Louisiana, but they are planning to return to Oregon and are engaged to be married.

“It’s very exciting,” Groves said of the federal court cases. “I’m really confident (the judge is) going to overturn the ban.”

Pat Ackley, 74, of Bend, said the movement to legalize same-sex marriage is the same as other campaigns for equal rights. “I fought for women’s rights and civil rights years ago,” Ackley said. “This is absolutely a right we have to fight for. I believe when we discriminate against one group, we diminish the rest of us.”

The Rev. Jenny Warner, who is from the First Presbyterian Church of Bend but was not representing the church at the vigil, said marriage is challenging, and people willing to make that commitment deserve support.

“I’ve realized this is all about love and commitment,” Warner said. “I’m for anyone who wants to make that commitment.”

Zuckerman, with Oregon United for Marriage, said a poll completed for the group earlier this year showed 55 percent of likely voters support legalizing same-sex marriage.

“Oregon is ready for this, for us to win,” Zuckerman said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7829,