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Gays, allies
mobilize to protect Oregon laws

Gays, allies
mobilize to protect Oregon laws


A group that has fought antigay initiatives in two states by publicizing petition-signers' names this week extended its efforts to Oregon, where two recently passed LGBT civil rights laws are under attack.

A group that has fought antigay initiatives in two states by publicizing petition-signers' names this week extended its efforts to Oregon, where two recently passed LGBT civil rights laws are under attack.

When a marriage supporter in Oregon contacted Aaron Toleos, codirector of Massachusetts's, the group added that state to its growing list of battlegrounds. This week promised to launch a new Web site that will list the names and addresses of people who've signed petitions to put a measure before Oregon voters to repeal two rights bills.

Such petitions are public records, as many signers in Massachusetts and Florida found to their chagrin, Toleos told

The two Oregon bills, passed by the legislature this spring and signed May 9 by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, create strong domestic partnerships for Oregon gay men and lesbians and outlaw discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace, public accommodations, and housing.

The Constitution Party and Restore America are two known groups behind the push to invalidate the Oregon Family Fairness Act (House Bill 2007) and The Oregon Equality Act (Senate Bill 2).

Led by former state legislators Kevin Mannix and Marilyn Shannon, the laws' opponents have until September 26 to collect 55,179 signatures to put the questions on a statewide ballot. If they are successful, neither bill will be enforced pending the outcome of the November 2008 election.

"Given the low threshold for signatures, we are proceeding on the assumption that the petitions will make it on the ballot but don't think they'll be successful if the people vote on it, however," John Hummel, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, told on Wednesday. "Oregonians are with us on equality."

Oregonians were not on the side of equality, however, in 2004, when the state was one of 11 that passed antimarriage ballot measures on the same day. Oregon's ballot Measure 36 was a reaction to same-sex marriages performed in Multnomah and Benton counties after their county commissions said the Oregon constitution and state law did not prohibit issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

This time the fight is a bit different. First, the public has been moving in the direction of same-sex marriage in many places, and some polls show a plurality of Americans favoring civil unions. In addition, these initiatives, if successful, would take away basic nondiscrimination rights--rights that a supermajority of Oregonians, and Americans, support.

"Even some of the leaders behind 36 said at the time they didn't oppose domestic partnership," Hummel said. "Now opponents are trying to scare people and mislead them into believing they're about gay marriage. This time it is not about marriage but rather family fairness and protection."

Framing both bills in terms of protecting families is one way Basic Rights Oregon plans to lure ordinary citizens away from the bills' foes, Hummel said.

Toleos, a straight father who works for marriage equality, and his business partner, Thomas Lang, will offer the Oregon group guidance on messaging as well as technical assistance and hosting and Web site services.

He said injects peer pressure into the equality debate, by showing people, online, who signed up to discriminate.

In addition, "we uncovered a lot of fraud with similar petition drives in Massachusetts and Florida," Toleos told on Wednesday. "It turned out that a lot of names were forged."

Beyond exposing fraud and those who legitimately signed on to deny equality, Know Thy Neighbor puts pressure on LGBT citizens as well, Toleos said.

"When you see who signed the petitions and they're your friends and neighbors and bosses and coworkers, the question becomes, Now what will you do about it? It's a trigger moment. It's no longer a generalized threat but specific people who signed up to prevent your rights."

In this election equality supporters may have even more help from mainstream religious organizations. The Community of Welcoming Congregations, an Oregon and southwestern Washington interfaith ministry, will be reaching out to its 81 member congregations and other faith groups to advocate for both laws, the Reverend Tara Wilkins, the group's executive director, told

"The interesting thing is, the folks gathering signatures this time are not the usual suspects," Wilkins said. "The Oregon Family Council said that they felt they were already heard by the legislature, especially regarding the religious exemption, which was their big issue." (Larry Buhl,

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