Recognized by the state

James Frank and David Gray made Jackson County history Monday morning by becoming the first domestic partners recognized by the state.

The Talent couple tried holding back the tears as they presented their certified Domestic Partnership contract to the cheering crowd gathered at the Jackson County Clerk's office, including about 40 members of the Rogue Valley Peace Choir.

"This is so great, and it's about time," said Frank, 64. "We've just made my grandkids very happy!"

The legally binding contract between gay couples became possible when a federal judge on Friday swept aside his earlier order and allowed same-sex couples throughout the state to register as domestic partners.

Activists predicted that hundreds of couples would line up on Monday morning at county offices to register, but only seven couples showed up when the clerk, Chris Walker, opened her doors at 8 a.m. the end of the day, Walker, whose first day as the new clerk started Monday, said 27 couples registered for domestic partnerships.

With the ruling from U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman, Oregon became the ninth state to approve spousal rights in some form for gay couples, joining Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maine, California, Washington and Hawaii. Massachusetts is the only state that allows gay couples to marry.

Gay couples who register as domestic partners will be able to file joint state tax returns, inherit each other's property and make medical choices on each other's behalf.

Pat Smith, 56, and Jennie Watt, 53, of Ashland, turned out early Monday morning to register at domestic partners.

The couple, together for 20 years, said they've been fighting anti-gay initiatives for two decades.

"We definitely have more of a sense of security now," said Watt. "We don't have to worry about what's going to happen if we leave things to each other in our wills or not being able to take care of each other when we get older."

Talent residents Paula Kratz and Donna Taylor, who will celebrate 35 years together this summer, were the third couple to receive the domestic partnership certification in Jackson County.

"I just keep thinking this is one giant leap for humankind," said Kratz, adding that she and her partner have gone through quite the rollercoaster ride over the years trying to secure rights for same-sex couples in Oregon.

She and Taylor 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.

The marriage license, which now amounts to a worthless peice of paper, still hangs on their livingroom wall.

When asked if she fears the same thing might happen to their new contracts, Kratz said, "Our entire wall may be plastered with worthless peices of paper by the time we're though; but we're not going to quit trying."

The couple built a house together in Talent and worried about inheritance rights and the rights to make medical decisions each other.

Kratz said she lost custody of her biological daughter for a couple years because she was gay.

"The judge said I could have her back, but only if Donna moved out," she said.

Kratz's daughter Deena Harrison, 41, has watched all of this unfold. "And through it all, I have never seen either one of them wanting to give up."

She said, "I am so excited for the two of them and am so happy that we finally got to see it happen. The domestic partnership contract shows progress on so many levels."

Taylor joked that she could now legally adopt Harrison, something she wanted to do for years.

Leslie A. Stone and Karen von Bergen of Ashland were the second couple in Jackson County recognized by the state as certified domestic partners, something the two of them have sought for decades.

"We've had no protections for 29 years," said Stone. "Now we can go forward with our lives. I'm just beside myself with joy."

The couple headed to Ashland to share the good news after becoming official.

"Everyone has just been terrific &

so supportive," she said, adding that well-wishers at Morning Glory and her neighbors all wanted to see "the document."

Even her 86-year-old mother, Myral Stone of Ashland, donned her blue T-shirt to show her support of the domestic partnership law.

"My shirt says 'Basic Fairness, Basic Rights,' and on the back it says 'It's about time'," said Myral. "I'm very proud of them. They worked so hard to get this pushed through. I'm glad it was finally realized."

About 60 people turned out for the domestic partnership celebration Monday night at Standing Stone Brewery.

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