Mike Marshall, a gay man and well-known nonprofit leader in San Francisco, has been picked to lead Oregon United for Marriage, the campaign announced Friday (October 25).
Marshall, who’s 52 and will join the campaign full time November 6, is no stranger to marriage equality work. Among his previous posts, he led No on 22, one of the nation’s first efforts against an initiative to ban same-sex marriages.
Oregon United for Marriage is working to get their measure to allow same-sex marriages on the state ballot in November 2014.
Marshall said the biggest challenge the campaign faces is “apathy.”
“I think the voters may think it’s a sure thing and stay home, and donors may think it’s a sure thing and not contribute,” said Marshall. But victory is “absolutely not” certain, he said.
“Oregon has a long history of fighting over LGBT issues, and we have a lot of hard work to do,” he said.
In a statement, Jeana Frazzini, chair of Oregon United for Marriage, indicated Marshall’s up to the task.
“Mike has an extensive track record of inspiring people to bring their best to campaigns and to building the movement for LGBT equality,” said Frazzini. “He has the skills and experience to run a national-caliber, winning campaign. He also believes ballot initiative campaigns need to build movements in order to win, which makes him the ideal person to lead Oregon United for Marriage over the next year.”
So far, the campaign’s collected over 100,000 signatures to qualify the initiative for the November 2014 ballot. The deadline for collecting signatures is July 2014.
“The goal, I believe, is 200,000, so we’re halfway there,” said Marshall, who added that the campaign is “virtually all volunteer-driven, which is extraordinary.” Petition campaigns usually find it hard to succeed without paid signature gatherers. Marshall, who will oversee a staff of 20, said the progress indicates “Oregonians are really eager for marriage equality.”
Despite Frazzini’s praise, Marshall may be best known for his involvement in campaigns that failed.
In 2000 he oversaw the losing battle against Proposition 22, the statewide ballot measure that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. (Unlike Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban, which voters passed in November 2008, Prop 22 didn’t amend the state constitution.)
Since 2009, Marshall has led Restore Hetch Hetchy, which has long fought to dismantle San Francisco’s water reservoir inside the boundaries of Yosemite National Park high in the Sierras. Last fall, city voters rejected a ballot measure pushed by Marshall’s group that would have forced the city’s Public Utilities Commission to drain the reservoir and store the water elsewhere.
Marshall defended his work.
On Prop 22, he said, “We never expected to win. We always knew it was the very beginning of the marriage effort.”
Eventually, he and others formed Californians for Civil Marriage, which he said got the board of the LGBT lobbying group Equality California to focus on marriage equality. The two groups ultimately merged.
In an email, Oregon United spokeswoman Amy Ruiz echoed Marshall’s remarks, saying the Prop 22 movement “was a movement building campaign, where there was no expectation of a win. Mike did an excellent job through that campaign of developing leadership and laying the groundwork for the eventual success of extending the freedom to marry to all of California’s couples.”
She added, “The landscape today is far different – nationally, and in Oregon.”
Marshall said the Hetch Hetchy ballot measure “was just one of several tactics” aimed at achieving the goal of draining the reservoir.
As was the case of Prop 22, “We always knew we were going to lose,” said Marshall. He said backers of the measure did succeed at “creating a political dialogue.”
They’re also preparing a lawsuit “to sue San Francisco to restore Hetch Hetchy Valley and to reform their water system so they don’t need it,” he said. Marshall, whose last day with Restore Hetch Hetchy is Thursday, October 31, believes the lawsuit will be filed next month.
Among other accomplishments, Marshall noted that after his work on Prop 22, he lead San Francisco’s LGBT Community Center while it was under construction and brought in $1 million.
Prior to his work with Restore Hetch Hetchy, Marshall served as the executive director of Under One Roof, a retail store that funnels profits to local AIDS agencies, from 2005 through 2006. During Marshall’s tenure, more than $200,000 was distributed to the nonprofit’s community partners, a $70,000 debt was retired, and a $45,000 lapsed grant from the city was reinstated.
Marshall had informed family and friends back in June that he and his partner, Robert Bennett Walker, were moving to Portland, Oregon and that he planned to leave San Francisco prior to Thanksgiving.
Neither Marshall nor Ruiz would disclose Marshall’s salary.