The Gay Rights Antidiscrimination Bill, Cira 1973

Les AuCoin

Wednesday’s 21-7 vote in the Oregon Senate to ban discrimination against gays in work and housing recalls the first such bill introduced in the Legislature 34 long years ago. I was there. When I read the news of Wednesday action, first I was elated, then quickly saddened that the road has been so long and tortuous (and we haven't quite reached it's end, even now).

Just as today, the Democrats had reclaimed control of both chambers of the Legislature in 1973. As House Majority Leader, I chaired the "speaker's committee," State and Federal Affairs. It was a panel that, by custom, the party in power packed with a lopsided partisan majority, the better to bury "bad” bills and swiftly send "good" ones to the floor.

When my friends, first-term Representatives Vera Katz and Steve Kafoury introduced the first anti gay discrimination bill in Oregon history, the late Dick Eymann, one Oregon’s best House Speakers, assigned it to my committee. (Steve and Gretchen Kafoury's daughter, Deborah, would years later become my office manager in Congress and, later still, the Oregon House Minority Leader.)

It's hard to imagine now but in 1973, gay rights was not a topic “polite society” spoke about. Politically, it was white hot. The late Gordon Macpherson, the Republican Leader, took me aside as a friend to say moving it would be a potential career-ender. I have to admit, the bill challenged the scope of my civil rights philosophy. But ultimately I knew if civil rights meant anything, it had to apply to gays and lesbians, as it did to all other citizens. I would report the bill out.

Despite the out-sized majority of loyal committee Democrats (including now-Congressman Earl Blumenauer), when I put the bill to a vote, it failed by one vote, a stunning reversal. Then a quite remarkable thing occurred. Representative Sid Basset (R-Grants Pass)—arguably the most conservative member of the House—spoke up.

"Mr. Chairman," he said, "Do you need my vote?" I had enjoyed a friendly personal relationship with Sid despite the philosophical chasm that divided us, but I was wholly unprepared for his act of courage and statesmanship.

"Yes, Sid, I would," I replied. Basset then switched his vote and my committee sent the bill to the floor with a one-vote margin. (Basset made it clear that his committee vote was a "courtesy" and that he would be a “No” vote on the floor.)

To try to sway the Republican caucus, I assigned former Republican Representative Lloyd Kinsey of Portland carry the bill on the floor. Lloyd was a wonderful, thoughtful progressive and he did a dazzling job. The ensuing debate was monumental. But, alas, the bill died on a tie vote, 30-30. The Senate did not bother to take it up.

It was a remarkable show of strength 34 years ago. Yet I temper my pleasure over the current Senate’s action with deep sadness that it has taken this long for this simple act of justice to start moving in the Legislature.

Sid Basset is long since gone. He was almost 90 when he performed his profile in courage. But when the history of this struggle is written, he should be remembered. I'll never forget him. Nor have I forgotten Lloyd Kinsey. I hope he is still living and, like me, is feeling wonderful that a dreadful wrong may be righted—34 years too late, but, with luck, righted nonetheless.

Les AuCoin

Comments

  • Bill Holmer (unverified)
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    Does this mean that the state of Oregon will no longer discriminate against unmarried heterosexual domestic partners with regard to the taxation of domestic partner health benefits?

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    heterosexuals can get marriage benefits; they don't need domestic partner benefits.

  • Phil Jones (unverified)
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    So, if this becomes law, will your kid's first grade 250 lb male teacher be allowed to wear stiletto high heels, nylons and plaid skirt to work without fear of losing his job?

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)
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    (sarcasm) Yes, Phil. All other standards for employment disappear as soon as this becomes law.(/sarcasm)

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    what does transvestism have to do with GLBT, anyway? I don't think Hoover was gay.

  • Phil Jones (unverified)
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    Yeah, Bert, that's exactly what would happen as soon as the first lawsuit was brought against an employer for "gender orientated" discrimination. That's why legislation such as this is dangerous in the legal sense. You can be sarcastic all you want, but if you were an employer on the receiving end of a discrimination lawsuit, you'd stop laughing real fast.

  • Anonymous (unverified)
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    I am thankful that this passed, but it is long overdue and not much to celebrate, frankly.

    A better bill was passed in the last session by the Senate that included civil unions, whereas, from what I have read this does not. SB 1000 was held up on the House side because Speaker Minnis chose to sit her fat ass on it even though a majority of the representatives said they would have voted in favor of it. Now, although Minnis still retains her nominal position as the Rep for her district she seems to have been reduced to the head of the Clean Capital Bathrooms Committe, which is ideal for her.

    I will be joyful when civil rights for the GLBT community are a reality, signed into law and have withstood a few election cycles of attacks from the OCA (soon to be fully reincarnated) and DOMA lead by the Satanic Right.

    Sarcasm? Certainly! Anger? Absolutely! It gets pretty frustrating paying taxes and being treated as a second or third class citizen. So, while I salute what happened yesterday, I am waiting to see much more.

  • Less of Les (unverified)
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    Les-

    Thanks for waiting to offer your opinion. We can only imagine how the Senate vote would have crumbled if you had offered your opinion the night before. It might have set us back another 34 years.

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    Phil--let's try again. You DO understand that being gay has nothing to do with dressing up in women's clothing, right?

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    and, uh, we already HAVE gender non-discrimination laws. Why are we not festooned with these lawsuits as you claim?

  • Phil Jones (unverified)
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    Torridjoe -

    I don't know whether being a gay male is conducive to the desire to wear women's clothing or not. I count on your experience in that arena to enlighten us all. However, Transgender, the T in GLBT, tends to annotate a desire to self-determine one's sexuality even when it deviates from the physical norm. Have you had experience with that lifestyle? I haven't, so perhaps you can explain better than Wikipedia what it is all about.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgender

    In any case, my point of litigation generation due to this special rights legislation is valid and I predict we will see many frivolous lawsuits filed over very silly situations. I'm sure trial lawyers are rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of this new monetary bonanza for them.

  • pat hayes aka wharf rat (unverified)
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    So Phil, is it your position that we should not extend equality of the law to all affected folks because some pesky, frivolous lawsuits may be filed ? We sure could have done without those pesky black people sitting at Woolworth's counters or trying to sit at the front of the bus, or the pesky blacl kids suing for equal education.

    I'm one of the fortunate white American men who grew up overseas and lived as a real minority, often of one, in a whole lotta diverse environments for some eighteen years. The very least I can do as a white hetero guy is support and encourage folks in minority groups to aim for full rights and responsibilities.

    And Les thanks for reminding us that there are many legislators with courage and integrity.

    Regards

  • Phil Jones (unverified)
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    Gee, I'd enjoy debating this issue with you further, but in my past experiences here, one of the moderators of this blog gets upset when someone with views in opposition to his views posts too often in one thread.

    So, I'll just leave it to the rest of you to discuss. Go ahead and get this special rights legislation on the books and I'll enjoy reading about all the goofball lawsuits that will inevitibly occur.

  • Chris (unverified)
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    Hi Phil-

    Can you please provide some evidence to back your statement up:

    "Yeah, Bert, that's exactly what would happen as soon as the first lawsuit was brought against an employer for "gender orientated" discrimination."

    I'm sure you're right, but I'd just like to see how you arrived at this conclusion, thanks!

  • Chris (unverified)
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    Hi Phil-

    Oops, I missed the post above where you run off without providing anything to back up your statements. Never mind, please disregard my last post.

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    "I don't know whether being a gay male is conducive to the desire to wear women's clothing or not."

    I was the one pointing out your ignorance on this area; I'm glad you've admitted it. I assume you no longer consider your example useful, in that regard.

    Your attempt to suggest I'm gay was really, really funny. I barely can type from all the laughter.

    And I'm curious what special rights are being granted. To whom are they being granted, and what are they? How are they special?

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    one of the moderators of this blog gets upset when someone with views in opposition to his views posts too often in one thread.

    Reasonable discussion is perfectly fine. It's shouting down people and refusing to actually engage in rational debate that's not.

  • Leo XXIII (unverified)
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    Ya--this is a great bill---it once again allows people of faith, god's people, to discriminate. Rather than standing up for people's civil rights, the Progressive Legislature, buckled to religious beliefs.

    I am supportive of people's right to believe what ever they want. But just because I believe that the world was created by and is guided by the Great Spaghetti Monster, I should not be exempted from any of the laws of this land.

    It would have been nice if the D's had stood up and said this is the way we protect civil rights. If the bill had died, it would have died--and we would have to keep fighting. Now, we all just feel good about ourselves.

  • Troix (unverified)
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    Blasphemy!! Its the FLYING Spaghetti Monster. Never, EVER forget that!

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    Myself, I believe in respecting others' religious beliefs and practices, provided they do not tread on my own rights and responsibilities. As a male couple, I would not expect my partner and I to be welcomed in many churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques here in Oregon. Nor would we ask to be. We know where we're not welcome. We also know where we are (and there are many).

    The religious exemption in Section 2(8) of HB2007 is an honorable embodiment of the spirit of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I'm glad it's there. We're a free country, and need to keep it that way, for all of us. Especially when we disagree.

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)
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    This thread is interesting. At first I thought Phil was feigning stupidty -- that is, pretending to oppose this measure on the basis of his loony interpretation of it -- because he was ashamed to just admit he's a bigot. I no longer think that.

    I think Phil may actually believe what he's saying. He's wrong; but I think he may be being honest about his fears. That raises an interesting point: are we just facing a PR problem?

    Is it possible that, except for a small minority, most of the people who voted for M36 were simply the victims of propoganda? Is it possible they really believed that if gays were allowed to marry then their own marriages would be disolved?

    If so, it suggests a different approach to the problem. Rather than coupling the push for equal rights with moral and ethical arguments, it would make sense to push for equal rights with "hey, don't worry. We're all friends here" arguments.

    Of course, I could be wrong. Phil could be a bigot who is just pretending to be stupid.

  • Betsy (unverified)
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    Phil, 33 states have anti-discrimination laws protecting gays and there has not been a resulting increase in lawsuits in any one of these states.

  • Bill (unverified)
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    I'm with Leo XXIII - are there civil rights exemptions for "faith-based" organizations who want to express their prejudice towards women? African-Americans? People with freckles? (Jesus said no freckles - it's in the "Book")

    Flying spaghetti monster aside, "faith-based" means "evidence-free" - it means you believe something for no defensible reason. So you get a free pass to discriminate?

    It's about politics - those unmarried trannies in collars still have some clout.

  • Chris (unverified)
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    I'm not going to pretend to be a homosexuality expert but if I had a dollar for every statement I hear or read about homosexuality that was just plain inaccurate, I'd be a rich man.

    It's tough to have any sort of logical debate with people who bring the blanket statements like "gay rights = mass lawsuits" or "gay rights = the destruction of marriage and family" or gay rights = more child molsters" and all that garbage. Those are hallmarks of ignorant people and by nature ignorant people are hard to sway.

    Most of the time if you just ask them to provide evidence of these arguments, they'll clam up. Because there are none.

  • Bill (unverified)
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    Most of the time if you just ask them to provide evidence of these arguments, they'll clam up. Because there are none.

    Exactly. Because it's simple prejudice, rooted in religious faith.
    And faith means NO evidence. There is no argument - they have nothing to say.

    And boy does it piss them off - but we shouldn't cut back basic civil protections because Zeus, or the Pope, or Spiderman told them to do so in a book (or a dream, or a pattern of tea leaves). An exemption for these scientifically illiterate, prejudiced, often closeted charlatans is as nutty as their transubstantiations and virgin births...

  • Grant Schott (unverified)
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    I interned for Ed Lindquist for congress in '94. I believe that Ed help carry the bill in either 73 or 75 (Wasn't it brought back in '75?) I believe that Ted Kulongoski was another early supporter. Ed told me that (probably no surprise), back then, there were moderate Republicans like Norma Paulus who would support non discrimination bills, but conservative Ds from rural OR (and probably Frank Ivancie types from PDX) who were opposed. The former D rep from my native dist in North Central OR dist was the late Jack Sumner, who was a conservative as well as a crook. Lobbyist Chuck Bennet did a great favor to us by defeating Jack in '78. (I was only five at the time.) Anyway, thanks to folks like Les, Ed, Stephen, etc... for you courage and convictions long ago... and today.

  • Laura Calvo (unverified)
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    Phil, Really? You might want to get to a hospital for a transfusion, you're ignorance is bleeding out all over the place.

    You're argument and concern over frivilous litigation is totally unfounded.

    SB 2 is not about special rights. It's not about opportunities to file friviolus law suits. It's not about "lifestyles".

    What it's about is everyone's right to hold a job, keep a roof over thier head, ride the bus, eat at a resturant, or be able to rent a motel room regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It's kind of like the right to be as ignorant and bigoted as you want. Except being ignorant and bigoted is a choice as is a lifestyle. Whereas sexual oreintation and gender identity are not lifestyle choices. It is the essence of a person and is immutable. Do people choose to be heterosexual or is it just who they are? What we're talking about is about basic civil rights.

    Have you had any experience with ignorance? Unfortunately I have and can not explain it, but perhaps you have explained it better than Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignorance

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