Real Family Values

By Kristin Teigen of Portland, Oregon. Kristin is a stay-at-home mother of two small children, grad student and an activist.

After years of a Republican majority in the Oregon legislature, the Democrats are showing those on the other side of the aisle what Family Values are really all about. Seemingly every week, the Democrats are introducing or passing pieces of legislation that make it easier for Oregon's families to get through the day. It's a trend that deserves some attention.

First, they passed Domestic Partner legislation. Unlike empty conservative rhetoric promoting the marriage, this actually helps real-live, committed families all around us. By giving gay men and lesbians the same economic and legal rights the State gives to the hetero crowd, this legislation will make a dramatic difference during illnesses, tax time, or any of the host of circumstances in which tying the knot confers official legitimacy. Now, if we could just get rid of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, and extend all of the benefits of marriage to those who deserve it, we would really be talking.

Next, they passed legislation (HB 2372) to allow new mothers the right to a time and place to pump breast milk at work. For years, giving one's child breast milk for the recommended six to twelve months has been the privilege of the well-off. If you can afford to stay home, or you have the kind of job where you can shut the office door for some period of time, then great! Go ahead! If you work at a factory, in a department store, or anyplace where there just aren't enough regular breaks, then too bad. Despite the fact that breast milk is the clear nutritional choice, the children of the middle- to lower-class mothers have been asked to go without. Thanks to the legislature, this is no longer the case. Still, one worries about the loophole in the legislation that allows businesses to circumvent the law by proving that offering the benefit "would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business." That seems pretty slippery.

Coming up next, hopefully, is HB 2575, sponsored by Diane Rosenbaum. This legislation, currently in committee, will create a Family Leave Benefits program to allow folks to take time off to care for their families. This is an extension of the federal and state Family Medical Leave Act, which allowed employees (of larger businesses at least) to take some unpaid time off of work to care for family members. The FMLA was great and all, but really, who can afford to take months off? Rosenbaum's legislation charges employers employees a meager one cent per hour to provide $250 per week for up to six weeks a year for new moms and dads, those caring for elderly parents, or anyone caught in the middle of a medical emergency. Whew! Something that would really make a difference!

To ensure that the hits just keep on coming, contact your representative and tell them to support HB 2575. While they're at it, they can continue this wonderful trend by looking at their funding for both primary and higher education, areas in which Oregon has a lot of cause for shame. Now that they're on a roll, why not really go for it? Oregon's families will be so happy.

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    An important clarification: HB 2575 will charge employees a penny per hour, not employers.

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    Rosenbaum's legislation charges employers a meager one cent per hour to provide $250 per week for up to six weeks a year for new moms and dads, those caring for elderly parents, or anyone caught in the middle of a medical emergency.

    Kudos to Diane Rosenbaum for putting this forward. I'm glad that the state is doing something, although I'd love to see more of this kind of legislation on a federal level. Something like Canada's parental leave program, which uses the national unemployment insurance program to provide benefits to new parents or people caring for sick family members, for up to almost 9 months.

    Now there's some family values.

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    Thanks, Patton. I've fixed that in Kristin's post.

  • Oregon Bill (unverified)

    In response to a "Woo Hoo! Monumental Milestone Indeed!!" e-mail message from a straight friend...

    Yes, but...not to be ungrateful...Domestic partnerships are not equivalent to marriage, so the state still fails to fulfill its promise of equal protection for all.

    Domestic partnerships are not portable to other states or nations and provide zero federal benefits or recognition. My partner and I were married in Canada in 2003, after 15 years of - for want of a better term - marriage! We have two kids, we've hosted two boys from Germany, and we're active and welcome in school, neighborhood and community endeavors.

    Yet purely because of religious (largely Christian, and notably evidence-free) prejudice, from the Archdiocese of Portland, the Albina Ministerial Alliance, the Mormons, etc. - we are still selectively denied equality of opportunity under the law.

    So - yippee! Domestic partnerships. We're married in Canada, and our marriage is recognized in Massachusetts, Denmark, Sweden, other parts of Europe, South Africa.

    Only the religious bigotry of much of our own country keeps us less equal than, for example, your family. But at least it's some progress. Cheers! Bill & Co.

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    I couldn't agree with you more. I'm hoping that we can all continue this drumbeat and that overturning DOMA becomes part of the discussion of the election of 2008 -- I'm tired of issues of fundamental morality being treated like a political third rail.


  • Chris McMullen (unverified)

    "Provide $250 per week for up to six weeks a year for new moms and dads..."

    Why should our taxes pay for people who choose to become parents? When my kids were born, I took off five weeks, two of which were paid vacation.

    Do you Dems EVER take responsibility for your own actions?

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    I'm so glad for you that you were able to afford it. Not so for everybody -- Democrats are actually putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to supporting children and families. It's something we should all remember when we collect our Social Security checks, paid for with taxes on what will be our children's earnings.

  • artsasinic (unverified)

    I'm certain that all the folks who spout the "why should our taxes pay for people who choose to become parents" will happily give up their federal and state exemptions they get for 18+ years...

  • Chris McMullen (unverified)

    "I'm so glad for you that you were able to afford it. Not so for everybody --"

    Then don't have kids if you can't afford them. Good lord.

    "will happily give up their federal and state exemptions they get for 18+ years..."

    I don't think kids should be a tax exemption. But I wont be giving mine up; the less money to the government-class the better.

  • BlueNote (unverified)

    As my legal assistant is about to give life to her 3rd bundle of joy in 3 years, I ask myself how much more do I need to suffer so that I can be a progressive employer. People are not machines, and I cannot fully replace my fantastic highly skilled (and highly paid) legal assistant with "a temp" during the 3 months (paid) leave that my law firm allows new mothers. I figure that each of her kids has cost me $60,000 in lost productivity for me and my family.

    All this sounds good in theory, but down here in the streets it is not so pleasant, even for a progressive.

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    Regardless of whether one has kids, whether one can afford kids, whether they are planned or not, there are burdens to society. For every person who doesn't have kids, they are asking for someone else's children to pay the taxes for Social Security (from the "government - class"), for the roads and services they will use when they no longer work and to provide for a future society once they leave it. For those who do have children, the raising of which is a huge, monumental task, they sometimes ask society to take part, to be a part of ensuring a healthy, productive, well-educated group of future citizens for us all. I would hate to raise my children in a society that doesn't value them, thinks they are nothing but a burden, and I would also hate to live in a society that believes that those who don't have children are somehow not playing their part. It really comes down to deciding what kind of society YOU want to live in -- one that expects people to ALWAYS be perfect, to never need anyone else, to live in isolation, or one where people are supported for their choices, and helped to become the best kind of citizens for our collective society. I know what I want.

  • artsasinic (unverified)

    I guess for me, when it comes to paying for education and well being for ANYone's who do I want caring for me when I'm in the "Home" ;-)

  • Chris McMullen (unverified)


    The whole point is that we shouldn't make it easier for parents who can't afford the burden of having children to procreate.

    Having a child should be like owning a home. You have to save up to own it, then you have to maintain, nurture and upgrade the home for it to perform optimally. Too many people have kids, then rely on society to pay for their upkeep. These government handouts for time off and all that crap just enables irresponsible parents to have more kids who in turn become even more of a burden on society.

    The society I want is one that doesn't reward people for bad decisions.

    P.S. I'm not not going to touch the Social Security issue right now -- that's a whole other can of worms.

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    Of course, it's not just about kids. It's also about caring for sick family members.

    Does it make sense that our society says to wealthy folks, "Go ahead, take time off to care for your ailing parent/spouse/child" - but tells middle-income and low-income folks, "Sorry, you gotta work".... even when the cost to taxpayers is LESS when you simply provide a small amount of cash ($250/week) to the person that will provide dozens of hours of care in that crisis moment.

    The alternative is often institutional or hospital care - at a much more expensive rate.

    This family leave program will surely SAVE taxpayer dollars.

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    <h2>Breathe deep. There's really no need for worry. It's not compulsory foster care. It's not a program to pay for full-time nannies for irresponsible parents on meth. No one is being asked to babysit or personally change the bedpans for Great Aunt Martha. Luckily, we won't have to go down the road towards class-based parenting and we won't, as a State, even have to go to a place where we have to refer to a child, an aging parent or a medical emergency as a "bad decision." Really -- it's going to be alright. It's a mere $20 a year (not a week, not even a month) to give some folks struggling with the needs of their families a little (just a little) bit of breathing room. Everyone can relax.</h2>
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