Signature effort fails to block Oregon's domestic partnership law


State election officials say opponents failed to turn in enough valid signatures to block Oregon's new domestic partnership law for same-sex couples.

State elections officials reported Monday that the effort fell 116 valid signatures short of the 55,179 needed to suspend the law and place it on the November 2008 ballot for a popular vote.

That means that as of Jan. 1, Oregon will join eight other states that 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.

Later this week, word is expected on whether opponents gathered enough signatures to block a gay rights law that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation &

though that effort, as well, appears to be lacking sufficient signatures.

Social conservative and church groups mounted the signature-gathering drive after the two gay rights laws were approved by the Democratic-controlled Oregon Legislature with strong backing from Gov. Ted Kulongoski, also a Democrat.

The state's largest gay rights group called Monday's announcement a "proud day for Oregon."

"In refusing to sign these petitions, Oregonians showed that they aren't interested in rolling back our anti-discrimination laws," said John Hummel, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon.

Sponsors of the referral effort had conceded in recent days that they probably hadn't gotten enough signatures. But they vowed to take another avenue to try to derail the laws &

an initiative effort to repeal the laws outright. They would have until next July to collect 82,000 valid signatures to repeal each of the two laws.

"We're not discouraged," said former state Sen. Marylin Shannon, spokeswoman for the referral effort. "We definitely will file initiatives to repeal both of these laws. We are very optimistic about it."

Still, Monday's announcement was a major victory for supporters of the two new gay rights laws that had been stymied for more than 30 years in the Legislature before being approved by the House and Senate in May of this year.

In 2004, about 3,000 same-sex couples were granted marriage licenses in Multnomah County before the Oregon Supreme Court nullified the licenses as unconstitutional the following year.

Gay rights activists say that many of those couples plan to file for domestic partnership status as soon as the new law takes effect Jan. 1.

Oregon's domestic partnerships measure covers benefits relating 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.

Shannon and other social conservatives believe the domestic partners bill, in particular, violates the intent of Oregon voters who in 2004 adopted a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

"This just flies right in the face of that ban," the former Republican lawmaker said.

Gay rights backers say most Oregonians make a distinction between gay marriage and domestic partnerships, and they support providing protection under state law for same-sex couples who are in committed relationships that currently are not recognized by the state.

"They know that committed couples should have the legal means to take care of each other, especially in a crisis," said Hummel, the Basic Rights Oregon spokesman.

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