Gay rights foes confident they can force vote on new laws


It looks like two new gay rights laws that are supposed to take effect on Jan. — will be suspended until Oregon voters have a chance to weigh in on them in November 2008, according to the group that's opposing the new legislation.

Gay rights advocates scored major victories in the Oregon Legislature this spring when lawmakers approved laws to ban discrimination against gays in work and housing, and to give same-sex couples most state benefits of marriage through legal domestic partnerships.

But a coalition of social conservative and church groups has been collecting petition signatures in hopes of blocking the measures. If they can collect 55,179 signatures by Sept. 26, the measures will be suspended until they can be voted on in the November 2008 election.

A spokeswoman for the referral campaign, former state Sen. Marylin Shannon, wouldn't give out signature totals Thursday. But she said hundreds of volunteer petition carriers have been enjoying "awesome" success in their efforts to block the laws from taking effect.

"We've got 15,000 petitions out there and we're printing more. I'm willing to predict that Oregonians will vote on this in 2008," the Brooks Republican said of the referral campaign by a group called Defense of Family and Marriage Again.

The executive director of the state's largest gay rights group, Basic Rights Oregon, said it appears that opponents will be able to round up enough signatures to keep the two laws on hold until next year's general election.

"It's unfortunate that a small group of people don't agree with basic fairness," John Hummel said Thursday.

However, Hummel predicted that gay rights supporters ultimately would prevail if the issues are placed before Oregon voters next year, since polls have shown a growing number of Oregonians back the two laws.

Shannon and other social conservatives began their referral campaign right after the Legislature approved the two gay rights laws. Shannon said she believes the domestic partners bill, in particular, violates the intent of Oregon voters who in 2004 adopted a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

In an interview Thursday, Shannon said last week's ruling by a Multnomah County judge that the lesbian partner of a Portland mother is entitled to legal parental status is another example of gay rights backers in government trying to promote an "agenda."

"People are exorcised by the fact that the Legislature and an activist judge threw out the votes of people" who supported the 2004 ballot measure banning gay marriage, she said.

Hummel, though, said the domestic partnerships law passed by the Legislature doesn't equate to full marriage and that it was a compromise that most Oregonians can support.

"This is an attack on basic fairness and equality, and on all Oregonians being allowed to protect their families," the Basic Rights Oregon spokesman said of the campaign by Shannon and the others to block the new laws.

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