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April 6, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 14
 
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Anti-discrimination, relationship rights bills making headway in Oregon
Anti-discrimination, relationship rights bills making headway in Oregon
by Jacob Clark - SGN Staff Writer

The Oregon Senate voted 21-7 to pass a bill last month banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodation, education and public services. The Oregon Equality Act, Senate Bill 2, will now come before the House Elections, Ethics and Rules Committee for a public hearing on Monday, April 9.

According to Melissa Chernaik, Communications Director for Basic Rights Oregon, the Senate heard personal stories form Oregonians during public testimony at a committee hearing. The House committee is likely to hear similar stories.

"We had a young man who was fired from a retailer in Salem, because a customer claimed he was 'too Gay,' and that led to his firing," she said. "No other reason, no problems with performance, but just because a customer said he was 'too Gay'."

First proposed in 1973, the legislation has been introduced in almost every legislative session. "Thirty-four years is far too long for Oregonians to be waiting for these vital basic rights. It's time." she added.

The Senate bill is the first bill in a package of legislation recommended by the Governor's Task Force on Equality to move forward. The second bill in the Basic Fairness package, the Oregon Family Fairness Act, would extend some rights to same-sex couples once reserved only for heterosexual married couples. Also known as House Bill 2007, the Oregon Family Fairness Act will be heard Monday at the same House Elections, Ethics and Rules Committee hearing.

"We have a second piece of legislation," said Chernaik, "which we are equally committed to, which would create the legal recognition of same-sex relationships and would provide many of the rights, protections, benefits and responsibilities of marriage for same-sex couples and their families.

"It's not the same as marriage. Unfortunately, marriage is not currently available to same-sex couples under Oregon's constitution, but it would provide very critical, necessary protections."

Asked whether the bill is for civil unions or domestic partnerships, Chernaik said, "It's called a civil union but we're open to calling it domestic partnership. In every state that you have civil unions or domestic partnerships, the benefits vary from state to state. In California it's the Domestic Partner Law, which is much more like the civil unions in Vermont, than it would be like the Domestic Partner bill in Washington. The name is not nearly as important as the set of rights granted to same-sex couples through this bill."

Governor Kulongoski has stated his commitment to seeing both bills enacted. "Bring me the bills and I will sign them!" he declared at Basic Rights Oregon's day of action on March 12th.

Asked what we can do in Washington to support Oregon's passage of both bills, Chernaik replied, "I encourage Washingtonians to contact their friends and family in Oregon and encourage those folks to make sure they are up to speed on the issues and are contacting their legislators, especially their State Representatives."

Both SB 2 and HB 2007 are expected to pass out of committee and will then be sent to the House floor for a full vote in the coming weeks.

Basic Rights Oregon is Oregon's largest statewide political grassroots organization whose mission is to promote equality for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Oregonians.

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