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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
April 20, 2007

Oregon passes domestic partner and
equal rights bills

Salem, Ore.--Small numbers of Republicans in the state House of Representatives broke party lines to approve a one-two punch of bills expanding rights for LGBT people on
April 17.

A domestic partner measure that would grant full estate planning and medical decision-making rights to same-sex couples drew three Republicans, who joined all 31 Democrats in the chamber.

The bill requires people registering as domestic partners to be Oregon residents.

A similar bill passed the state senate two years ago, but then-House speaker Rep. Karen Minnis, a Republican, refused to allow it to come to a vote. Now, however, Democrats control both houses of the legislature.

The second measure passed with one more Republican crossing party lines. It would extend anti-discrimination protection in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The equal rights measure has already passed the state senate, but it must go back to that chamber so senators can approve changes made by the House of Representatives.

Opponents of the measures trotted out familiar arguments against them, including terms like lifestyle, choice and immoral.

State Rep. Brad Witt took umbrage at those characterizations.

“Rational human beings do not choose lifetimes of intolerance and discrimination,” he said, according to the Salem Statesman Journal.

State Rep. Vicki Berger of Salem was one of the Republicans who voted in favor of the measures. She said part of the reason she supported them was because two of her long-time friends, a lesbian couple, are foster-parenting babies born to meth-addicted mothers.

“Their service is above anything I’ve ever done,” she noted, pointing out that the women are devoted Christians being true to their faith.

“Today Oregon took two great strides toward equality by passing the Oregon Family Fairness Act and the Oregon Equality Act,” said House Speaker Jeff Merkley, giving credit for the passage in his chamber to “citizen activists from all corners of the state, along with Basic Rights Oregon and the Human Rights Campaign.”

Democrats lead Republicans 18-11 in the state senate, with one independent. If the trend in the House holds, both measures should pass easily, and Gov. Ted Kulongoski is expected to sign both.

The non-discrimination measure was introduced in the senate as the request of the Governor’s Task Force on Equality in Oregon.

“I have the pen ready,” Kulongoski said at a rally in March.

Upon his signature, the equality measure would make Oregon the 18th state with a gay and lesbian equal rights law, and the tenth to protect transgender people.

The domestic partner bill is similar to a broad measure in adjacent California. Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey have civil unions, and Massachusetts allows same-sex couples to marry. Maine and Hawaii have narrower domestic partner laws.



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