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Countdown to January

Preparing for Oregon's Two New Gay Rights Laws

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When the state elections division announced last Friday, October 12, that anti-gay activists had failed to gather enough signatures to put the second of two recently passed gay rights laws to a public vote, gay rights activists finally celebrated.

Ever since Governor Ted Kulongoski signed both laws on May 9—one outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, while the other creates domestic partnerships for same-sex couples—they've been in limbo. The anti-gay campaign immediately began gathering signatures to refer both laws to the ballot.

Had the anti-gay campaign successfully gathered 55,179 signatures on each of their two petitions, the new laws would not have gone into effect on January 1. Instead, Oregon's gay rights supporters would have spent most of 2008 urging voters to affirm the new laws, so they could take effect in 2009.

But now, with the referenda effort dead, Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) and folks like Multnomah County Commissioner Jeff Cogen are looking toward January 1.

Cogen's office is drafting a fact sheet on registering as domestic partners in Multnomah County, while BRO is hosting "Know Your Basic Rights" briefings across the state to answer questions about the new laws.

While both laws go into effect on January 1, that's a holiday. "Starting January 2, people will be able to get their domestic partnership contracts signed at county offices across the state," explains BRO's Organizing Director Thomas Wheatley. He's not sure what the atmosphere will be like at the Multnomah Building, where same-sex couples will find the domestic partnership contracts in the marriage license office. It will likely be a contrast to March 2005, when same-sex couples enjoyed wedding cake as they waited to marry at the county building.

"Domestic partnerships are very different than marriage," Wheatley explains. "This is a civil contract signed between two individuals. I imagine that folks will get their paperwork filed, then go ahead and have a celebration. I don't know that it's particularly romantic to go to the county building and file a piece of paper."

As for the non-discrimination laws, the state government "has already been moving to figure out the enforcement mechanisms" and the education component of the law, Wheatley says. BRO is also gearing up to watchdog the implementation of the two laws—and to fend off an expected repeal effort from the same anti-gay activists who tried to refer the laws.

"They tried once. That was the warm-up act, the dress rehearsal, and they're going to come back again," Wheatley says. Indeed, according to email announcements from David Crowe of Concerned Oregonians, signature collection on repeal petitions may begin in January.

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