Celebration now a vigil

What was supposed to be a celebration of the new domestic partnership law at Standing Stone Brewing Co. Wednesday night is now a candlelight vigil at Ashland First Congregation United Church of Christ.

Supporters of the Jan. — passage of the law that would have given some spousal rights to same-sex couples were shocked when a judge ruled Friday to place the measure on hold pending a February hearing.

"This was totally unexpected," said Karynn Fish, communications director at Basic Rights Oregon in Portland. "Our attorney feels the judge obviously doesn't have a clear understanding of petition laws."

Opponents had asked U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman to intercede after the Oregon secretary of state's office ruled in October that they were short 114 valid signatures to block the law.

Bryan Platt of Eagle Point, a member of Concerned Oregonians who contested the invalidation of the signatures, said, "I think it was a just ruling because it was evident that there needed to be a more thorough review."

Platt said the process county clerks used to determine whether petition signatures were valid or not was inefficient. He said it didn't matter what side of the issue people are on, because holding county clerks accountable on their validation process is a victory for all registered voters in Oregon.

Many others disagree with the judge preventing the law from going forward as scheduled on Tuesday.

"So you didn't get enough signatures," said Fish. "You tried and you failed. That's the law and that's the way it's been done for decades and decades."

The Oregon measure covers benefits related to inheritance rights, child-rearing and custody, joint state tax filings, joint health, auto and homeowners' insurance policies, visitation rights at hospitals and others. It does not affect federal benefits for married couples, including Social Security and joint filing of federal tax returns.

Donna Taylor, 61, and her partner Paula Kratz, 58, of Talent, planned to apply for a marriage license Wednesday morning and then celebrate with friends and family that night at Standing Stone.

"The news was extremely shocking and terribly disappointing," said Taylor.

She and Kratz, who will celebrate 35 years of being together this summer, were one of the 3,000 same-sex couples who received marriage licenses in 2004 before the Oregon Supreme Court nullified them as unconstitutional the following year.

Taylor said the law is crucial for older same-sex couples. "At this point in our lives, the main issues are inheritance rights and the rights to care for each other."

The couple bought land together nearly 30 years ago and built their house from the ground up. Taylor said the home means a lot to them and they worry their wills could be contested if one of them dies.

"We've made arrangements through our loan agency," she said. "But without the law backing us, it's tenuous."

She said the two of them are also concerned about long-term care when they are older. Married couples are allowed to share rooms in nursing homes and participate in medical decisions.

"It's heartbreaking to think that we'd be kept apart at a time when you definitely want to be with your partner," said Taylor.

Eight other states have approved spousal rights in some form for same-sex couples &

Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maine, California, Washington and Hawaii. Massachusetts is the only state that allows gay couples to marry.

The vigil, with Rev. Pam Shepherd presiding, will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at 717 Siskiyou Blvd. The Rogue Valley Peace Choir also will be performing.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x226 or .

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