Ed. Note: Robin Will discusses the history of the Queer Heroes NW project here.
By Robin Will, President, Gay & Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest (GLAPN)
Chris Tanner didn’t want notoriety—she just wanted insurance for her spouse and kids. That process took the entire childhood of those children and turned the entire family into activists. They have been part of two major lawsuits for LGBTQ civil rights in Oregon.
Christine Tanner and Lisa Chickadonz met in 1982 at Oregon Health Sciences University. They started a family in the 1990s. Lisa wanted to work part-time and care for their children, but as a state agency, Chris’s employer could not legally provide insurance for an employee’s unmarried partner.
Chris, Lisa, and four other plaintiffs sued. The case, Tanner v. OHSU (1998), was a huge victory, requiring public agencies to provide employees’ same-gender domestic partners with the same benefits that are provided to the spouses of married employees.
The couple legally married in 2004, when it became possible in Oregon, but their marriage was annulled by the passage of Ballot Measure 36, a constitutional amendment defining marriage in heterosexual terms.
In 2013, Chris and Lisa saw an opportunity to change that. They became plaintiffs in Rummell v. Kitzhaber, a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn Measure 36. The judge combined the case with a similar one, Geiger v. Kitzhaber. On May 19, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Michael McShane declared Oregon’s Measure 36 unconstitutional. At the 2014 Tanner-Chickadonz wedding, the children were old enough to serve as witnesses.