Robin Castro and John Halseth are at the top of Section 106 at Portland’s Jeld-Wen Field decked out in Timbers’ green, belting out chant after chant just as play gets underway.
It’s the second round of the Major League Soccer playoffs and the Portland Timbers are playing their rival club, the Seattle Sounders.
The couple’s had the same seats for years, but Castro says never for a game this big. This is the farthest the Timbers have advanced in the playoffs since joining MLS in 2011.
“We’re totally stoked to be here and everybody is so excited and we can’t wait”, said Castro.
Castro and Halseth have been fans of the Timbers long before the team joined Major League Soccer. But to call them fans doesn’t quite do justice to their commitment. Not long ago Halseth says they needed their house painted and decided on — what else, but “Timbers’ green.”
“So our house is green, gold and white, just like the jersey”, said Halseth. “It’s a very Timbers house.”
Castro and Halseth have been together for nearly 18 years.
They were married in 2004 during a brief window when Multnomah County issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. But several months later, their marriage — along with hundreds of other gay couples — was annulled when the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the county didn’t have the authority to issue the marriage certificates.
Since then, Castro and Halseth say they’ve been waiting for the day when they can once again be married in Oregon. A proposed ballot measure could make that possible next year.
The campaign’s picked up support from politicians and corporations. But last month, it got an unexpected boost when the Timbers and the Thorns became the first professional sports teams in the country to back a same-sex ballot initiative.
For fans like John Halseth, the news was monumental.
“For me, it was like, my team supports me, I support them and they support Robin and I together,” said Halseth. “It was really exciting, I was almost speechless, I almost cried because it’s like really a major deal for a national pro-sports team to come out in the favor of the freedom to marry.”
The club’s support for same-sex marriage is unprecedented. But Jamie Goldberg, who covers soccer for The Oregonian, says it’s not surprising that the first pro-sports teams in the country to support gay marriage are from Portland.
“Portland has an inclusive culture,” said Goldberg. “That’s just the vibe that you get when you’re in Portland. And I think it’s an area where people are comfortable coming out as gay and there isn’t much backlash against that. So it’s easy for the teams to take the step, knowing how their community’s going to feel, to say that they’re in support of this ballot initiative.”
Here in Portland, the Timbers’ electrified fan based — called the Timbers Army — has long advocated gay rights.
Just hours after the Timbers and Thorns made their announcement, the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazer’s issued a statement saying they too support making same-sex marriage legal in the state.
Thomas Wheatley is the director of organizing at Freedom to Marry, a national organization advocating for same-sex marriage. He says having professional sports teams weigh in engages new segments of society in a conversation about marriage.
“Sports team’s fan base cuts across the ideological spectrum,” explained Wheatley. “And so you have conservative fans, and liberal fans, and older fans, and younger fans, fans from all walks of life who now see their team standing up for marriage. I do think that changes the discussion.”
Back in section 106, the crowd is going wild.
After 93 minutes of hard-fought play before a sold out crowd, the Timbers beat the Sounders 3-2, and earned a spot in the Western Conference Finals where they will face Real Salt Lake — a match up both Robin Castro and John Halseth say they’ll be watching.