Gay rights activists from across Oregon converged on the capitol Thursday for a rally and a day of lobbying lawmakers to pass equal rights measures for same-sex couples. "Our time has come," Roey Thorpe of Basic Rights Oregon told a crowd of around 500 people at the capitol's main entrance. "We will never go away. We will never give up," said Thorpe, executive director of the state's major gay rights organization.
The event was held on the one-year anniversary of Multnomah County's creating a political uproar by beginning to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The legality of the 3,042 licenses issued before a judge halted the practice is up in the air because voters in November passed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. A case awaiting a decision by the Oregon supreme court asks the justices to decide whether the licenses are valid or whether the voter-passed marriage
prohibition is retroactive.
Another major issue in the case is whether the courts have the authority to define marriage-type benefits for same-sex couples or whether that's up to the legislature. Gay rights backers are lobbying lawmakers to create civil unions that would provide the equivalent of marital benefits for gay couples, such as rights to spousal death benefits or visiting rights in hospitals. Sen. Ben Westlund of Bend, the most prominent Republican gay rights voice in the legislature, told the rally he's "passionately supporting civil union legislation" along with senate majority leader Kate Brown, a Democrat representing Portland.
Gay rights supporters also are pushing for passage of a bill that would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Democratic governor Ted Kulongoski says adoption of the antidiscrimination measure is a high priority of his, and he also backs civil unions. Westlund, in an interview, said prospects are "excellent" for passage of both measures in the Democrat-run senate, but likely would run into trouble with leaders of the Republican-controlled house.
House majority leader Wayne Scott has said the antidiscrimination bill probably deserves an airing, but that he is concerned about giving "special rights" to gays. Chuck Deister, spokesman for house speaker Karen Minnis said she would have no comment on the proposals Thursday. House minority leader Jeff Merkley said he thinks the bill would have "a very good chance" of passing if leaders allow the measure to come to a house vote, because it likely would get bipartisan support. A bill to create legal rights for civil unions between same-sex couples would have a tougher time passing in the house, he said.
Katie Potter, daughter of Portland mayor Tom Potter, attended the rally and said one of her goals is defeating a bill that would give a preference in adoptions to heterosexual couples over same-sex partners. Potter and her partner, Pam Moen, took marriage vows in Multnomah County ceremonies last year, and Moen adopted Potter's two children. She said despite the voter-passed gay marriage ban, surveys have shown a majority of the public supports the idea of civil union arrangements. (AP)