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Too Little, Too Late

Lawmakers Screw Up Civil Unions

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Last Friday, the Oregon Senate passed Senate Bill 1000, a sweet piece of legislation that would both legalize civil unions and ban discrimination against gays and lesbians. While supporters of the bill have been busy patting themselves on the back, it remains doubtful that the bill will advance any further and actually become law. It still needs to pass through the House of Representatives, where it's being stonewalled by a staunchly conservative Republican leadership--and time is running out.

Although last week's vote was heralded by the Human Rights Campaign as a "historic step toward equality," the legislative session is quickly wrapping up with no real substantial advancements in gay and lesbian rights. In January, when the session opened, Governor Ted Kulongoski spoke out loudly about the need to promote and protect the rights of gays and lesbians. But since then, Kulongoski has been silent with his support--begging the question of whether his support was more symbolic than substantial.

The same could also be said for much of the state's political leadership. Last week's vote in the Senate to support SB 1000 was an important indication that there is wide reaching support for civil unions. However, if the bill does not pass the House it will ultimately leave Oregon's gay and lesbian community in the same place they were when the legislative session began six months ago.

SB 1000 started strongly, with hundreds showing up to voice support. But then the very leaders who were supposed to carry the bill forward--like state senator Kate Brown--fumbled the opportunity. In May, SB 1000's sponsors decided to ditch the bill in favor of SB 1073, a bill solely intended to legalize civil unions. They said that a stand-alone civil unions bill had a better chance than the complete package of SB 1000. For a month the senate dicked around with the new bill before completely scrapping SB 1073 and returning to SB 1000.

This indecisiveness cost SB 1000 valuable time. Supporters are now trying to force a vote in the House of Representatives before the legislative session comes to a close in a week or two.

Unfortunately, the Speaker of the House, Karen Minnis (R-Woodburn), has currently refused to bring SB 1000 to the floor for a vote. Meanwhile, Basic Rights Oregon has been calling for supporters to lobby their state representatives in order to get a vote underway. However, it's doubtful that supporters will have enough time to build up the kind of political pressure needed--especially since the Democratic leadership in the House refuses to list SB 1000 as a priority issue.

While the sound of the state senate voicing their support for civil unions may be music to the ears of gays and lesbians, without a law in place their words haven't changed a thing.

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