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Sep-26-2007 23:36printcomments

Effort to Defeat Oregon Anti-Discrimination Laws Squeaks Forward

Anti-Gay Referendum Effort Too Close to Call; Basic Rights Oregon's Hummel "encouraged," vowing close scrutiny of signature verification process.

Basic Rights Oregon at the state capitol during a 2004 rally
Basic Rights Oregon at the state capitol during a 2004 rally
Photo by: Tim King

(SALEM, Ore.) - Amid reports that their efforts to roll back Oregon's new anti-discrimination laws were faltering, anti-gay activists Thursday turned in barely enough signatures to meet the 55,179 minimum required by the Secretary of State to force a referendum on the laws. Because of likely duplications and other errors by signature gatherers, it is too early to tell whether the effort was successful.

"We are encouraged," Hummel said today at the Capitol, where he was joined by supporters of the laws. "In refusing to sign these petitions, Oregonians showed that they aren't interested in rolling back our anti-discrimination laws."

The Oregon Secretary of State has 30 days to determine whether either referendum has qualified. Hummel said Basic Rights Oregon plans to closely monitor the signature verification process to ensure that only valid signatures are counted.

"We will be here in Salem every day to observe the process," Hummel said. "We won't rest until the outcome is known."

Both laws were passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor last May. They are slated to go into effect on January 1st, 2008, unless the referenda qualify for the ballot.

One law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing and public accommodations such as restaurants.

The other law creates legal recognition for same-sex couples through domestic partnerships, giving committed couples certain rights and responsibilities, like hospital visitation rights, and the ability to make medical decisions for one another in a crisis.

Hummel said Oregonians know discrimination should be against the law.

"Oregonians know that discrimination is wrong," Hummel said. "They know it should be against the law to fire a good employee just because that person is gay or lesbian. And they know that committed couples should have the legal means to take care of each other, especially in a crisis."

During the legislative session, numerous Oregon businesses, including a coalition of small businesses around the state as well as corporate leaders such as Nike, Qwest and PGE offered strong support for the laws, citing the need for consistent statewide law to build and keep a diverse and talented workforce.

Salem nurse Nancy Frantz-Geddes, who has been in a committed relationship with her partner Peggy for 23 years, is well aware that the legal recognition provided by a domestic partnership is critical in a crisis.

"I want my life partner to make decisions about my care in an emergency," Frantz-Geddes said. "Without Oregon's domestic partnership law, a hospital would not have to honor my wishes. And were she in the hospital, I might not even be allowed to visit her."

Troutdale parent Don Ross said the law will make a difference for his son.

"As parents, we all want our children to be treated fairly," Ross said. "Oregon has done the right thing by making discrimination against the law."

Religious leaders also voiced support for the laws.

"At the heart of both Jewish and Christian traditions is respect for all people as children of God. In like manner, there is a strong prophetic voice for justice and fairness," said the Rev. Gail McDougle, pastor of Salem's First Congregational Church.

Should the referenda qualify, Hummel said he is confident that Oregonians will vote "yes" to uphold the laws in a November, 2008 election.

"Oregonians supported our anti-discrimination laws when they were passed and signed by the governor, they support the laws now, and they will support them next year," Hummel said.
Source: Basic Rights Oregon

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