In a history-making move, Oregon's Senate is planning to vote on civil unions after the Senate Rules Committee voted 3-2 on Tuesday to amend Oregon's marriage statute.
"This is very exciting, said Rebekah Kassell, communications director for Basic Rights Oregon in a conversation with the PlanetOut Network. "The vote that took place yesterday is the first time a legislative committee has voted to put civil unions for a vote before a main legislative body."
"I'm optimistic that we can pass this bill on the Senate floor," said Majority Leader Kate Brown to Oregon's Statesman Journal. A self-described bisexual who championed Senate Bill 1073, Brown added, "This is to provide all of Oregon families with the same legal protections and benefits."
But the support in the House is not as certain. Lawmakers are considering a rival "reciprocal-beneficiary" bill that offers about a dozen marital-style benefits but provides no protections for children. In contrast, civil unions would provide several hundred rights enshrined in state law.
"The problem is that the speaker of the house is a staunch opponent of our rights," explained Kassell. She expects Speaker Karen Mennis to play hardball when the civil union bill arrives.
"We expect it to pass in the Senate next week, and our legislation is part of the end game, so we're going to have to rely on the governor's pressure to make these bills into law," Kassell added.
Other organizations opposing civil unions include the Oregon Family Council, which claims that true discrimination against gays and lesbians doesn't exist, so the bill isn't needed.
The state's Catholic leaders are also mobilizing against the legislation. Robert Castagna, executive director of the Oregon Catholic Conference, read a letter issued by Catholic bishops claiming, "Marriage between one man and one woman will no longer be held up as society's preferred institution to conceive and raise children."
Dave Fidanque, executive director of the
American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, disagreed with Castagna's assessment. "If the state wants to encourage monogamous, committed relationships for the benefit of children and families in this state, this is one simple thing you can do," he said.
Peggy Senger Parsons, pastor of Freedom Friends Church in Salem, offered a different religious perspective. "I believe that God sees no difference between straight and gay," Parsons said. Offering civil unions "is the least we can do," she said.