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Oregon Domestic Partnership law faces courtroom drama from out-of-state group
Oregon Domestic Partnership law faces courtroom drama from out-of-state group
Oregon Domestic Partnership law faces last-minute difficulty from out-of-state group by Nick Ardizzone - SGN Staff Writer

Oregon's Domestic Partnership law, which would have granted selected marital rights to same-sex couples including joint insurance policies, child custody, hospital visitation and inheritance rights, was set to go into effect January 2, 2008. Rather than celebrating, Oregonians are left frustrated as a last-minute freeze has been forced on the passing of the law by a judge under the influence of an out-of-state far-right group.

OREGON PARTNERSHIP LAW HAS TUMULTUOUS HISTORY
The Domestic Partnership Law was proposed in the spring of 2007. Soon after, Tennessee-based group Restore America launched an effort to force a referendum on the law by gathering signatures. After turning in their petition on September 26, 2007, state election officials found that Restore America had collected 55,063 valid signatures - 116 short of the 55,179 required to suspend the law. The Domestic Partnership law was supposedly in the clear.

In early December, however, the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund filed suit, Lemons v. Bradbury, to force Oregon to retroactively admit signatures that had been disqualified, arguing that the signers of the petition had their rights violated when their signatures were discounted by the election officials.

Basic Rights Oregon filed an amicus curiae brief - a legal contribution where a party uninvolved with a case volunteers information to be considered prior to ruling - in Lemons v. Bradbury. The information provided by BRO asked the Court to consider, among other things, the cost an eleventh-hour injunction would place on same-sex partners who had already taken steps to comply with the new law.

In the face of this controversy, U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman suspended the passage of the law until a hearing on February 1 - arguably a one-month victory for the ADF.

BRO, ADF BUTT HEADS ON ISSUES
The Seattle Gay News contacted Karynn Fish, Communications Director of Basic Rights Oregon, and Dale Schowengerdt, Legal Counsel of the Alliance Defense Fund on January 2. Both parties shared their thoughts on this complex and crucial case.

Why did Judge Mosman demand the passage of the law be stayed? Basic Rights Oregon:
The plaintiffs in Lemons v. Bradbury have claimed that certain voters who had signed petitions in a failed referendum attempt on the law, and whose signatures had been rejected by elections officials based on well-established criteria, should have those signatures restored. In a provisional ruling on December 28, the court granted a motion by the plaintiffs to issue a temporary restraining order on the implementation of the law at least until the next hearing in the case on February 1. While the court acknowledged the harm to couples who planned on registering on January 2, citing the amicus brief filed by Basic Rights Oregon, [Judge Mosman] nonetheless concluded that plaintiffs had alleged a "fundamental right" in the referendum process that would also be harmed. Alliance Defense Fund: It is un-American that Oregon citizens are being denied the right to have their vote count in an important referendum. Judge Mosman granted ADF's request to prevent Oregon House Bill 2007 from going into effect January 1 while the lawsuit moves forward. Did Judge Mosman do the right thing in freezing the passage of the law? BRO: Our attorney believes that the court misunderstood Oregon's initiative and referendum law, grossly underestimated the harm that the delay would cause Oregon families, and ruled incorrectly in delaying domestic partnerships. Basic Rights Oregon has observed many signature verification processes over the years, and this referendum was treated no differently than any other. We continue to believe that the claims in the lawsuit are without merit. ADF: Yes. The right to exercise one's voice in the democratic process is a crucial one, and state and county officials must not infringe upon that right. Additionally, neither party benefits from uncertainty in the law. It would be harmful to everyone involved if the law went into effect, only to be stayed a few months later when the case is finally decided on the merits. Why should people living outside of Oregon care about this outcome of this case? BRO: The Alliance Defense Fund, an out-of-state conservative legal interest group, brought the case in U.S. District Court. They were supported by "Restore America" - the Tennessee-based group that led the failed effort to gather signatures to overturn the law by referendum. All fair-minded people should be concerned about the abuse of our legal system by well-funded special interest groups with the intent to deprive others of their basic rights. ADF: Our country is founded on the basic principle of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. The right to exercise one's voice in the democratic process is a crucial one, and state and county officials must not infringe upon that right. Is there anything straight and GLBT citizens in the Seattle area could or should do to support your cause? BRO: Although we are not a named party to the case, Basic Rights Oregon has launched an ambitious legal strategy and intends to pursue every avenue to ensure a just outcome. GLBT citizens in the Seattle area can support our efforts by getting the word out to their friends, family and loved ones in Oregon. In addition, we welcome support at the Rally to Defend Equality on SW 3rd and Madison in Portland on Saturday, January 30. ADF: For more information on the Alliance Defense Fund, please contact www.telladf.org or 800-TELL-ADF. BRO PLANS FURTHER ACTION Tuesday night, hundreds of candlelight vigils were held across Oregon to show support for Oregon's domestic partnership law. "This is a delay. This is a slight glitch on our road to freedom and equality," Multnomah County Commissioner Jeff Cogen said at the Portland vigil. "Oregonians believe in a fair and just society. We believe in family. We believe in giving committed couples every opportunity to care for each other. Not one day longer." Their sights set on the road to equality, BRO was waiting for an opportunity to join the fight. On Thursday, they received the news they had been waiting for. "On Wednesday, attorneys for Basic Rights Oregon filed a motion to intervene in the Lemons v. Bradbury lawsuit," a hastily-written entry on the BRO website reads. "[Thursday] morning, we learned the judge has granted our motion. Basic Rights Oregon will now have standing in the case, enabling us to ensure that the voices of hundreds of families and committed couples are heard before the court."

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