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Ted Kulongoski

Ted Kulongoski


As a freshman Democratic member of Oregon's state house in 1975, Ted Kulongoski introduced legislation to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination. It didn't pass. Now, as the state's governor, the 65-year-old Kulongoski is still fighting for equality. Citing the refusal by the Republican house speaker to bring a gay-inclusive antidiscrimination bill to the floor for a vote in 2005, he recently established the Governor's Task Force on Equality to advance the bill next year and to rally the public against any further antigay Republican positioning.

It has been more than 30 years since you introduced antidiscrimination legislation in the state house. Why has it still not passed? I've always had a deep underlying belief that if you can do a job--unless your lifestyle relates to the performance of your job--you're entitled to the job. Just because one's sexual orientation isn't the same as yours is not grounds to be fired any more than it is if you're black. I think the public has moved to an acceptance of that. Now what I think has happened is the Republicans have hijacked this issue and turned it into a political issue because they think there's some political value to it. Politicians basically see that this is a good issue to draw a divide among people. That's what has made it difficult.

It seems like a savvy political choice by you, then, to galvanize public support in the face of such positioning. After Oregon passed this constitutional amendment [banning] same-sex marriages, which I campaigned against [in 2004], I think everyone thought the political process would go dead on this issue. I put it back in the next legislative session two months after the election because I didn't want it to go dead. I like the task force because I don't want a political vacuum to be generated. I want the public to care about the debate.

Are there more reasons for your new task force than just pushing a pro-gay antidiscrimination bill? [I created it] actually to have a broad-based group of citizens sit down and look at this issue, so it isn't just elected officials introducing bills but a much broader base of people who say this is something that's long overdue in Oregon. What I want the group to do is to look at this whole area and recommend to the legislature a much broader concept than just the antidiscrimination issue. They have a big charge.

That charge includes examining the effects of other states' antidiscrimination laws, especially in business. What do you expect to find? I cannot emphasize enough that we're in a very competitive economy. Technology, all these other things that drive competitiveness internationally--you need the talent and skills, but it's the spirit that people bring too. And I think if we are going to succeed, no one can be left out. I think that's the fundamental issue about why you give people a chance. Why would you deny anyone that chance in a very competitive economy like today?

Do you have many gay friends? I have a number of friends who are priests, and they are celibate gay priests.

Did you grow up Catholic? I grew up in a Catholic boys' home. They taught me never to be judgmental about people. I have always believed in fairness and equality. It's the reason I went to law school, that I got into the labor movement. I thought this was a way I could best express this value of giving people a chance.

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