Opponents of two gay rights bills submitted more than 60,000 signatures Wednesday in a bid to force referendum votes in next year’s election. But as Colin Fogarty reports, it’s not clear whether the campaign gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
In May of this year, state lawmakers and longtime gay rights advocates gathered on the west steps of the capitol for what they considered a historic bill signing ceremony.
After 30 years of trying, the groups got Oregon lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 2, which prohibits discriminations on the basis of sexual orientation.
A second measure — House Bill 2007 — granted all the benefits of marriage to gay couples in the form of domestic partnerships. Governor Ted Kulongoski hailed the effort.
Ted Kulongoski: "And House Bill 2007 and Senate Bill 2 are two pieces of legislation that will literally transform our state from one of exclusion to one of complete inclusion."
But it’s a transformation that opponents of gay rights don’t want.
Former Republican state Senator Marylin Shannon and other social conservative activists quickly created a group call the Defense of Marriage Again Coalition.
The original Defense of Marriage Coalition — the one that sponsored a constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2004 — rejected the idea of forcing referenda on two new gay rights bills. The domestic partnership bill confers the rights that come with marriage without the name itself. But Shannon says her group believes domestic partnerships for gays and lesbians are the same as marriage.
Marylin Shannon: "The law right up front says every privilage and responsibility that is given to people who are or were married is now given to those who are or were in a domestic partnership. Everything that Oregon can give to same sex couples, they did."
One critical group to the signature collecting effort were Slavic churches in the Salem area. But Shannon’s group has not been as successful as they’d hoped.
Last week, Shannon said not enough signatures were coming in to qualify for the ballot. But in the last few days she says her office outside of Salem has been deluged with packages.
Marylin Shannon: "I’m cautiously optimistic that we will make it. I don’t want to say we will or we won’t but I’m very positive about it."
Shannon says her group has collected more than 60,000 signatures. 55,000 are needed, but campaign experts say a buffer is needed because the Secretary of State’s office tosses out invalid signatures.
John Hummel, with the group Basic Rights Oregon, is hoping the referendum campaign fails.
John Hummel: "You know I’m surprised. The threshold is very low and I would be surprised that they can’t do than just the bare minimum required. I think we’re actually encouraged that Oregonians are not interested in overturning our anti-discrimination laws."
If Shannon’s group does not qualify the two referenda, the new laws take effect in January. If the referenda campaign succeeds in qualifying for the November 2008 ballot, the two new laws will be put on hold until then.
Marylin Shannon says if she fails, her group will look at other options, such as sponsoring its own ballot initiatives to repeal the two gay rights bills.