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Clock Is Ticking For Oregon Signature Gatherers

Time is running out for people trying to overturn two new gay rights laws in Oregon.  They have until September 26 to gather enough signatures to force the issue to a vote.  Salem correspondent Chris Lehman has more.

Lawmakers in Oregon this year passed two gay rights measures.

The first adds sexual orientation to the state’s anti-discrimination law.  The second creates same-sex domestic partnerships that offer many of the same benefits as marriage.

It’s that last part that has some groups especially upset.  They say it violates the will of Oregon voters, who passed a ban on same-sex marriage in 2004.

David Crowe is with Concerned Oregonians, one of several groups that’s gathering signatures to put both measures before voters.

David Crowe: “We don’t believe that the legislature really listened to us by coming back and claiming another form of marriage and calling it domestic partnerships.”

The signature gathering efforts took on a new twist when an opposing group called “Know Thy Neighbor” got involved.

Know Thy Neighbor says it will publish online the name and address of everyone who signs the petitions.

Co-director Tom Lang says the tactic, which has been used in Massachusetts and Florida, is about keeping people accountable.

Tom Lang:  “We believe that by putting the names online, if you saw a member of your family or a friend or someone you work with or someone in your community’s name, that they had signed this petition, that you could actually go out there and talk to them, introduce yourself, introduce your family, and say ‘Hey, I don’t think this is right.’”

Know Thy Neighbor’s promised action is legal, since petitions are public documents.  Still, it bothers David Crowe of Concerned Oregonians.

David Crowe:  “What are we, bad folks?  I don’t think so.  I think we’re good people who are exercising our rights to express our view.  I think a lot of Oregonians would say why are they doing that?  Are they doing that to intimidate us or make us fearful?  To me, that’s just not what America is about.”

It’s unclear what impact Know Thy Neighbor is having.  But Pacific University Political Science Professor Jim Moore says the approach could be especially effective in Oregon.   He says the state’s voters have a track record of shying away from making their views on gay rights public.

Jim Moore:  “When we first had the gay rights measures that hit Oregon in 1988 and then especially in 1992 and ’94, it was very clear when we did public opinion polling that people lied about how they stood on these ballot measures. More people voted for the ballot measures than the polling would suggest.  So people were lying about their support for these measures.”

But Moore says it might turn out to be a moot point anyway.

Jim Moore:  “The number one obstacle to this petition making it onto the ballot is the un-coordinated efforts to gather signatures.”

Their campaign consists of several groups operating independently. Moore says that increases the likelihood of duplication and errors. They need a combined total of about 55,000 signatures to qualify each of the issues for the ballot.

If they get them, the new laws will be placed on hold pending the outcome of a November 2008 referendum.

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