Second anti-gay referendum drive falls short in Salem


Oregon's gay rights advocates scored their second victory of the week when election officials said Friday that opponents of a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation had failed to muster enough signatures to derail the new law.

On Monday, the secretary of state's office reported that opponents had also fallen short on the signatures needed to put a referendum targeting a second new law allowing same-sex couples to form domestic partnerships on the November 2008 ballot.

Those announcements clear the way for both laws to go into effect, as scheduled, on Jan. 1.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a strong supporter who signed the bills, called them historic.

"Every decade or so there are a few bills that are actually transformational for Oregon," Kulongoski said in a statement Friday. The laws "will literally transform our state from one of exclusion to one of complete inclusion," he said.

Former state Sen. Marylin Shannon, a spokeswoman for the referendum drive, promised to continue the fight against the two gay rights laws.

"Just because Democratic legislators and the governor forced these bills on us, doesn't mean that people support them," Shannon said.

Opponents now plan to pursue an alternate route to get the measures before voters: initiative petitions to repeal the laws.

The opponents would have until July to collect signatures to get a statewide vote in November &

at which point the measures would have been in effect nearly a year.

"The proof of how Oregonians feel about these things will be when they are voted on in November 2008," she said.

However, a spokesman for Oregon's largest gay rights advocacy group said the fact that the opponents' referral drive had fizzled is a strong indicator of public sentiment on the issue.

"Most Oregonians supported these laws when they were passed and signed by the governor, they support the laws now, and they will support them a year from now," said John Hummel, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon. "Most Oregonians believe discrimination is wrong."

The opponents needed to round up 55,179 valid signatures to block each of the two laws from going into effect Jan. — and set up a statewide vote in November 2008.

State elections officials said Friday that the petition drive against the anti-discrimination law fell about 1,300 signatures short while the domestic partnerships one failed by 116 signatures.

On Jan. 1, Oregon will join eight states that have approved spousal rights in some form for gay couples &

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

The other measure outlaws discrimination in housing, jobs and public accommodations based on sexual orientation. Oregon now is one of 18 states with laws banning such discrimination.

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