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Anti-Gay referenda fails in Oregon
Anti-Gay referenda fails in Oregon
Gay rights groups not celebrating yet

by Liz Meyer - SGN Staff Writer

The second effort by anti-Gay groups to block Oregon's new domestic partnership law has failed to garner enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Early last week, the Oregon Secretary of State posted the initial signature verification results on its website for Referendum #303, which would have overturned protection for discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity. This first referendum came just 116 valid signatures short of the 55,179 needed to put the issue to a popular vote in November of 2008. The second effort, Referendum #304, failed by a larger margin, with the opponents to the domestic partnership law coming up1,304 valid signatures short.

The failed referenda attempts mean that, as of Jan. 1, 2008, the Oregon Family Fairness Act and the Oregon Equality Act will go into effect. However, should anti-Gay groups decide to continue their efforts and attempt to repeal the law, they would have until July 3, 2008 to collect about 82,000 signatures.

Human rights groups in Oregon celebrated the somewhat unexpected victory. "It was such a low signature threshold to begin with that we fully expected them to make it all along," said Karynn Fish, Interim Communications Director for Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), Oregon's largest LGBT rights group.

"We are thrilled and relieved," Fish said, adding that BRO planned to celebrate the victory with several events throughout Oregon.

However, LGBT rights groups in Oregon say their work isn't done. Fish said the anti-Gay groups have maintained all along that they would continue their efforts if the referenda failed.

"They haven't filed yet, as far as I know," Fish said on Tuesday, October 16. She said about BRO's stratedgy should opposition to the Family Fairness and Equality Acts continue: "I think that our approach, is first of all, we need to defend the laws," said Fish. "That means being ready. Second, we need to make sure the laws are enforced. We need to see that it's implemented."

These most recent efforts to overturn anti-discrimination and domestic partnership laws featured some particularly aggressive anti-Gay rhetoric, including anti-Gay activist David Crowe's assertion that an elections complaint filed against his group was "Oregon's Own 9-11 and "an attack within our borders." The comment was Crowe's reaction to a complaint filed against Crowe's group, "Concerned Oregonians" and another organization, in the signature gathering drive. The complaint alleged that Concerned Oregonians violated the law by soliciting campaign donations while unlawfully promising donors that they were eligible for a political tax credit.

"For the past two decades, Oregon has been a testing ground for anti-LGBT policies," BRO's website reports. "Through five statewide and more than 25 local anti-LGBT ballot measures, the far right has long used this state to assess public resonance with anti-equality policies, test messages and build infrastructure. Since the first ballot measure in 1988, the right wing has spent well over $8 million on statewide ballot measures alone."

In 2004, Multnomah County allowed Gay marriages before the state ruled it was illegal. Later, LGBT activists waged a large-scale effort to defeat a marriage amendment.

Oregon will join eight other states that have approved spousal rights in some form for same-sex couples - Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maine, California, Washington and Hawaii. Massachusetts is the only state that allows Gay couples to marry.

Putting the issue of equality to a public vote has been a commonly used tactic by anti-Gay activists in recent years. Seattle residents may remember Tim Eyman's attempt in 2006 to overturn a Gay rights bill that included protection for sexual orientation discrimination. Like the Oregon referenda, Eyman's Referendum 65 also failed to qualify.


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