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Attorneys Battle over Domestic Partnerships

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Attorneys for the State of Oregon, Basic Rights Oregon, and Alliance Defense Fund have been flinging briefs at the US District Court for more than a week, preparing for a February 1 hearing that will determine if, and when, same-sex couples can secure the state rights and responsibilities of marriage. The out-of-state Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is challenging the state's fall 2007 determination that a petition to refer the new domestic partnership law to the ballot didn't have enough valid signatures.

In the briefs, the ADF argues that people who sign petitions deserve "due process" if their signature is rejected. After all, they argue, voters whose signatures don't match get a chance to fill out a new voter registration card. Petition signatures should be treated the same way instead of being summarily tossed out for not matching, according to the ADF's attorneys, who argue that having your signature counted is a "fundamental right."

"County clerks will bend over backward to ensure that a vote is counted," the ADF brief says. "Referendum petitions, however, receive no such treatment—the defendants will not even correct errors when they are brought to their attention by the very petition signers that have been disenfranchised."

In her brief for Basic Rights Oregon, attorney Margaret Olney slams ADF's attempt. "This case arises out of the chief petitioners' failure.... Supporters of the referendum lost under the existing rules of the game, so now they're asking for special treatment. They want to change the rules just enough that Referendum 303 qualifies for the ballot."

Furthermore, signing a petition isn't a fundamental right, she says. "There are important differences between the acts of signing a petition and the act of voting. In deciding the issue before it, the court should not conflate the two," Olney writes.

Attorneys aren't the only ones preparing for Friday's court battle. Two nights before the hearing—on Wednesday, January 30, at 5:30 pm—domestic partnership supporters plan to flood Terry Schrunk plaza at SW 3rd and Madison, in the shadow of the federal courthouse, for a "Rally to Defend Equality."

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