PORTLAND — After months building the groundwork to make Oregon the first state to vote to legalize same-sex marriage, gay rights advocates said Wednesday they’ve decided not to pursue a ballot measure in part because there isn’t clear evidence that it could pass.

Basic Rights Oregon, a gay rights group, said the economic turmoil would make it too difficult to mount an expensive initiative campaign that could exceed $5 million. When voters are worried about their jobs and feeding their families, they don’t want to ponder an important social issue, said Jeana Frazzini, the group’s director.

“It’s a disappointing sort of position to be in,” Frazzini said. “At the same time, it’s a tremendous opportunity. The groundwork that’s been laid, the momentum we’ve created can only get stronger.

“This is on our terms and our timeline for the first time,” she said.

Opponents of same-sex unions welcomed the news.

“We think that’s best for Oregon right now,” said Teresa Harke, communications director for the Oregon Family Council. “It’s a bad time for Oregon to be dealing with a divisive issue like this.”

Multnomah County, which includes Portland, briefly issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004 until a judge ordered a stop to the practice. Later that year, Oregon approved a statewide ballot measure by a 14-point margin to define marriage in the state constitution as a union between one man and one woman.

Gay rights advocates have aired television ads aimed at raising support for same-sex unions by framing the issue as a matter of love and equality rather than a political debate. The ads feature both same-sex and heterosexual couples discussing their relationships as part of a two-year effort that also included mailers, phone banks and door-to-door canvasses.

Frazzini said the campaign has been successful at improving attitudes toward gay marriage but hasn’t built enough support to ensure that a measure reversing the 2004 vote would pass. A failure in Oregon would slow momentum in other states, she said.

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