Opponents seek to block Oregon gay rights laws


A coalition of social conservative and church groups are ready to launch a campaign to ask Oregon voters to overturn two gay rights measures recently enacted by the Legislature.

"It's going to be a lot of citizens who are highly motivated to make this happen," said former state Sen. Marylin Shannon, a Republican from Brooks who's been involved in forming the coalition that will spearhead the effort.

They are aiming to block implementation of two bills that were signed into law last week by Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, forcing them instead to the statewide ballot in November 2008.

One is a domestic partnership law that will enable same-sex couples to enter into contractual relationships that carry many of the benefits offered to married couples under state law. The other law will ban discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people in employment, housing and access to public accommodations.

Many social conservatives, such as state Rep. Linda Flores, believe the measures, especially the domestic partnerships bill, go against the wishes of Oregon voters who approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2004.

"I have heard from so many Oregonians who feel betrayed because the legislature made an end run around the voters," the Clackamas Republican said. "Putting this issue on the ballot would give them an outlet to vent their frustrations."

Once state election officials give the group the go-ahead to begin a referral campaign, the petitioners will have to collect 55,179 signatures from registered voters within 90 days after the Legislature adjourns for each of the gay rights laws they want to overturn.

Shannon said members of the new group, dubbed the "Defense of Family and Marriage Coalition &

Again," referring to the 2004 ballot measure campaign, are confident they can collect enough signatures to force the issues to a statewide vote.

"We already know where our supporters are," Shannon said. "We have the addresses of 126,000 households of people who signed the petition to put the gay marriage ban on the 2004 ballot."

A spokeswoman for the state's leading gay rights group, Basic Rights Oregon, said it appears likely the newly formed coalition will have the ability to gather enough petition signatures to force a vote on the two laws.

Melissa Chernaik said she believes Oregonians will uphold both gay rights laws, but the ballot measure campaign likely will be expensive and divisive.

"It's going to cost a lot of money to buy TV ads to explain to voters what these laws really do and to counter the misinformation that the opponents will put out there," Chernaik said.

Shannon, meanwhile, said the coalition planned to file paperwork with the state on Tuesday to begin its referral campaign.

On Monday, three southern Oregon men, including the chairman of the Constitution Party of Oregon, filed papers with the state to begin a separate campaign to refer the recently adopted gay-rights laws to the voters in 2008.

However, Tim Nashif, a conservative political consultant who led the 2004 campaign to pass a gay marriage ban, said the Constitution Party doesn't have much of a political track record in electing candidates or collecting petition signatures.

"Marilyn Shannon has connections with the groups and the people who will have the ability to pull this off," Nashif said.

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