Civil Unions AND Anti-Discrimination

Jesse Cornett

During the last legislative session, Senate Bill 1000 would have primarily done two things: ban discrimination aimed at gays and lesbians and provided for civil unions.

We all know that SB1000 met its demise in the Oregon House. However, a lesser known fact is that Senator Rick Metsger introduced SB 500, which would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, but did not include civil union provisions.

According to some, gay rights activists criticized SB 500 for not going far enough. Organizations such as Basic Rights Oregon supported the combination of anti-discrimination legislation and civil union legislation into one bill. At the end of the day SB 1000 did not pass and SB 500 was never debated. Now Senator Metsger has re-introduced SB 500 to stand alone on its own merits, separate from civil union legislation.

So the question that I wanted to throw out there for the Blue Oregon community: should these be debated separately this year or together?Discuss.

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    the only real solution to this (which, for the love of God, should not be a problem in the first place) is to get get government out of the marriage business entirely. we have religious officials conducting govt business -- marrying people -- despite its obvious contradiction of the fundamental constitutional separation of church and state. this allows religion to block the access to non-religious civic services and rights. who can possibly think this is good?

    eliminate state-sanctioned marriage entirely. entirely. the state should not issue marriage licenses, period. instead it sanctions partnerships, providing the legal framework necessary to become a couple, have/be a family, autorize and terminate the legal elements (insurance, child support, etc). everyone gets a civil union, just the same as they can get a drivers licence, a business licence, etc.

    meanwhile, churches are free to marry whom they will. discrimination will be a church matter, not a state matter. this should appeal to even ardent christianists because it removes them from under the control of the state. as things stand now, a successful initiative campaign can impose legal standards on a church's liturgy. is that what anyone wants?

    civil unions for all, and marriage by choice. it's a win-win for all -- except the power mongers who don't care about God or people, just their clout.

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    I agree with TA of course, and most of us are clear that for millenia marriage has been about the sacred contract between a man and his property, but to address Jesse's question.

    SB 500 would be much easier to get passed so let's do it. Then let's bring up a new version of SB 1000 and pass that too.

    If 1000 fails, you can get going in the courts based on SB 500.

  • Leo (unverified)

    I agree w/ TA---sweet and simple. But that would take leadership and that is lacking. SB 500, nice bill, and a good one for people like Sen Metsger and Sen Gordly to hide behind so they do not have to face the "religous" people and explain to them that their religion is fine--if they, in their church, chose not to marry someone, then so be it--happens all the time now. But, they do not have a right to deny that right--a civil contract-- to others.

    I for one am very glad that the D's are in control of things, but am not surprised that they can't show leadership on difficult issues.

  • Steve Low (unverified)

    Leo, you are so woefully uninformed. But thank you for a Ghallagher-level understanding of state politics.

    Senator Metsger and Senator Gordly are two of the most courageous members of the Oregon Senate, and in my trips to the Capitol, I've had the pleasure of meeting both of them more than a few times.

    But you seem to be confusing political will with political reality. If there's a lack of leadership in the legislature that's preventing passage of a super-duper 100% plan, that's a shame -- but I've never known Senator Metsger or Senator Gordly to "hide behind" anything.

  • Eric (unverified)

    I don't understand Leo's comment either. How are they hiding? They both voted for SB 1000 last session...Metsger made civil unions and anti-discrimination one of his campaign platforms, and in a district that voted for M36 at a 70% clip...Now he has introduced an even more powerful version of SB 500 than he did before.

    Sure sounds like he is hiding to me...

  • GalTuesday (unverified)

    Should the government get out of the marriage business? Yes. Is that going to happen this year in Oregon? Not likely. While that is a valid and important topic for debate/action, there is a need for action NOW on something that is achievable. I personally do not see the harm in introducing two separate bills, and if the senators wish to reintroduce SB500, good for them. I don’t see anyone rushing to push SB1000 back to the floor. It may be time to recognize that there is more than one way to achieve equality in Oregon, and BRO is not always right when it comes to promoting the equality agenda.

  • Eric (unverified)

    Oops! I forgot to answer Jesse's question.

    T.A. may be on to something, but that solution may not be possible, being that states can only change state law. I believe there are federal tax laws that apply to those that are "married". States don't have the authority to change what the feds do.

    I think both civil unions and anti-discrimination should be passed. It makes no difference to me if they are together in one bill or separate bills for each. However, they did fail once as one bill, so maybe they should try passing them separately.

  • e.g. (unverified)

    Let's bring this back to the issue: is it better to combine civil unions and an anti-discrimination policy, or to address them separately. Ideally, both would easily be passed and it wouldn't matter how they were presented. But we live in Oregon, and Oregon has a conservative streak, so that won't happen. To ensure that we DO pass anti-discrimination legislation we need to keep the issues separate.

    Beyond this purely practical answer, however, I think there are benefits to presenting the topics separately. Anti-discrimination and allowing for civil unions are completely different issues and I think we could win many more supporters for the anti-discrimination legislation if it wasn't so closely tied to the civil union, or marriage, issue - both in the legislature and among Oregonians in general. Here’s why: very few people support discrimination. It is hard to argue that someone should be denied a job, housing, or a comfortable workplace, because of any part of their identity. It is only when anti-discrimination is tied to other, more controversial, gay-rights issues that it meets vehemently hostile opposition.

    Let's do a favor to anyone who lives with discrimination, or in fear of it: let discrimination be an issue of its own. Let's remind people that, whatever your opinion on homosexuality, interfering with another persons life because of their identity is wrong.

    Yes, I'd love to see SB 1000 reintroduced. If it, or any other civil union bill, is introduced I’ll be right along side you fighting for it. But aren't both statements - that bigotry is wrong, and that everyone deserves equal rights - more powerful if we allow them to stand alone?

  • Jesse (unverified)

    Keep them together. SB 500 isn't enough.

  • Blueshift (unverified)

    The fact of the matter is, non-discrimination and civil unions/gay marriage are two different issues. Non-discrimination laws, including Sen. Metsger's SB500, are aimed not only at people who are of a certain race/gender/sexual orientation/etc., but also at people who are perceived to fit that description. That is, discrimination occurs against people who are perceived to be gay, lesbian, or of a non-traditional gender identity, but who may not be, as well as people who actually are. Rumor, hearsay, preconceived notions and stereotypes all contribute to inaccurate impressions of a person, and can lead to discrimination based on qualities that person does not actually possess.

    The civil unions issue, on the other hand, deals only with people who actually are gay or lesbian. No one will be trying to hand out tax breaks or hospital visits based on the perception that two people have entered into a civil union. Either they have, or they haven't. Civil unions deal with fact; discrimination with perception.

    Needless to say, I think this legislature should address both civil unions and non-discrimination this session, but I don't think they belong in the same bill. We need to get SB500 passed, and pronto, to ensure that innocent people are not denied jobs, housing or other services based how they are perceived by others.

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    I am not the previous commenter Jesse but I personally think we need to have them both together because it's the right thing to do. Political reality, though, says that a civil unions bill will get sent out to voters, and if anti-discrimination is attached, it will be part of the same question on the ballot. So, do we want to put out to the anti-discrimination on the ballot to help keep civil unions from getting voted down, or will civil unions help bring down equal rights on in the workplace, housing and etc?

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    Steve, don't be dissing Ghallagher!

    That said, I've been making the same case that T.A. makes for a long time now. Ditto!

    That said... it seems to me that it would be practical to debate nondiscrimination on it's own merits. Get that done and overwith and then I honestly believe that civil unions would be a much easier mountain to climb.

  • Jesse (unverified)

    Jesse--I'm curious as to why you think it would get sent to the voters? Wasn't it introduced and passed in the Senate last session? With Democratic control of the Legislature, I see no reason why it wouldn't be passed in the House and the Senate and that would be that.

  • Aisling Coghlan (unverified)

    As Interim Executive Director of Basic Rights Oregon, I want to jump in and clarify our position.

    The question really is not whether Civil Unions and Anti-Discrimination should be one bill or two, but whether both pieces can, and should, pass this legislative session. The answer is, unequivocally, yes.

    Diverse business, clergy and civil rights advocates from across the state, in the form of the Governor's Task Force on Equality, spent months analyzing current Oregon law and applicable legal precedent. They then held public meetings across the state, inviting testimony from businesses, religious organizations, community leaders and the general public. They heard what we know -- that creating equality in Oregon means passing both Anti-Discrimination and Civil Unions.

    Since the Task Force reported to the Governor that Oregon needs both pieces of legislation, Basic Rights Oregon has been hard at work with our state's legislative leadership and Governor to craft a package of legislation around which there will be consensus. That takes time. But we feel strongly that by building consensus before the bills are introduced, we will avoid SB 1000's fate -- that is, have comprehensive legislation that will truly end discrimination against GLBT Oregonians that can make it all the way through the complicated and delicate legislative process. That package will be introduced by the end of the month, and we will be proud to support it wholeheartedly.

    Without Civil Unions, we haven't fixed discrimination against GLBT Oregonians. It's worth waiting just a few more weeks to truly end decades of discrimination.

  • Chuck Butcher (unverified)

    It seems silly to me to speak of anti-discrimination and then ignore the giraffe in the living room - marriage/civil unions. To me these issues are exactly the same, discrimination. What do I know, I'm already married - by a JP.

  • LT (unverified)

    In order for something passed in the legislature to get on the ballot, signatures must be collected unless it is voted out as a legislative referral.

    I'm not sure that there are enough people willing to sign petitions, having learned in recent years how many ballot measure organizations are mercenary or connected to out of state groups.

    Not to mention the political climate changing and Iraq being such a big issue. And it seems to me all it would take would be someone to find a Measure 36 person saying "we are opposed to gay marriage--civil unions are something different" to shoot down many of the arguements. A bunch of people who attend church regularly (incl. churches which were actively No on 36) saying "We get it, marriage is a sacrament. But there have always been civil marriages by a judge or a justice of the peace--are you saying those are wrong also?" could turn the debate in new directions.

    Watch the last Spencer Tracy / K. Hepburn movie, GUESS WHO IS COMING TO DINNER to see how interracial marriage was regarded about 4 decades ago (the movie is pretty close to real life back then) and ponder that Barak Obama was a young child when the movie came out. When he was born, there were states where the marriage of a black man from Africa and a white woman from Kansas or any other state would be as illegal as gay marriage is now.

    But a new generation may not even know that history.

    Every year there are members of younger generations who turn 18 and register to vote. It may be if someone tries to put civil unions on the ballot after legislative passage that it wold go over like a lead balloon. Don't forget, M. 36 happened before we learned about the sordid lives of Ted Haggard and Mark Foley.

  • ws (unverified)

    Has it ever been officially recognized that the term "marriage" refers to a religious concept having arisen exclusively from a religious context that is accepted by government for legal purposes? I just don't recall ever hearing that, or that religion owns the rights to that term.

    It makes no sense that the govenment can extend specifically related benefits and protections to those joined under this context, and deny them to those joined in a secular context.

    All of this hoopla about "marriage" and "civil unions" is weird. Some people opposed to controversial civil unions will acquiesce to them out of common decency once origins and entitlement to the term "marriage" is established. Others will deny forever any resolution offered by such efforts for the obstacle it represents to the imposition of personal religious values upon society at large.

    For the most part it seems as though the exact nature of the term "marriage" is the dubious prop that keeps the whole descriminatory house of cards upright. Reveal that it has no integrity and all honorable americans will support measures extending to those pledging to be life partners, all rights extended by U.S. Government to those presently joined by the term "marriage".

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    ws, you are right: the hoopla is weird, but people is weird. we're stoopid too at times, too many times, but that's the way we is. there is a simple solution to this problem, but i agree with those who agreed with many: in 2007, we need to get done what is possible. i agree with Jesse C: keep civil unions & anti-discrimination together. i think they can both pass in this legislature, and it sets a tremendously important precedent. once they are law, the next step is 2008: fighting off the ballot initiative to overturn these laws (it will come). and in fighting, and winning, that battle in 2008, the stage is set to eliminate govt-sanctioned marriage, either in the 2009 Leg or at the ballot in 2010.

  • Bill (unverified)

    A court in Michigan just determined that same sex domestic partners are not entitled to health benefits from public universities or local and state governments because of that's state's recently passed amendment selectively denying equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians...

    And State Senator Avel Gordly's most recent e-newsletter lists her legislative agenda for 2007, with a section devoted to "civil rights/human rights." Notably absent is any proposal for addressing the second class legal status of gay and lesbian Oregonians.

    However, the Senator does highlight her "partnership" with the Albina Ministerial Alliance, which inserted a voter's pamphlet statement in support of Measure 36...

    Denying any child's parents (real, fully human, flesh and blood) the same legal and economic government protections afforded other Oregon couples, based on certain prejudicial (and evidence-free) religious beliefs, is a clear violation of 1) equal protection and 2) the separation of church and state.

    I'm not a politician. But with legislators quick to "partner" with Black ministers and Catholic priests who work hard to dehumanize gay and lesbian Americans and deny us basic civil protections, by amending constitutions that promised equality under the law - how do we get such baseless religious prejudice out of government?

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    "The fact of the matter is, non-discrimination and civil unions/gay marriage are two different issues."

    No, they are not. Unfair discrimination is wrong, whether it's in regard to employment, housing, or the many benefits available through legal recognition of a committed partner relationship, regardless of gender. The hair some would split, "perception" vs. actual status as LGBT, is a red herring. The issue is unfair discrmination, and its continuing daily impact on a couple hundred thousand LGBT Oregnonians.

    My partner and I have been together significantly longer than the average heterosexual married couple. The shafting we will take in lost Social Security benefits alone will run to the tens of thousands if this injustice isn't addressed, first at State and then National levels, before we reach retirement age.

    We want civil unions and non-discrmination in Statewide housing and employment. NOW, please. And, thank you.

    (FWIW, I am not the previous poster "Leo".)

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    OK, both "Jesse" and "Leo" who are not "Jesse Cornett" and "Leo Schuman" -- please add a second identifier to your names.

    It doesn't have to be your real last name, but please give us an initial ("Jesse X") or a descriptor ("Blue Jesse" or "Jesse in Tigard"). People misunderstand the comments enough here without adding ID confusion to the mix.

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    It always drives me crazy to hear the "right's" reasons for being against gay marriage. They sound like the same reasons why my husband and I would not have been allowed to marry not that long ago (I'm white, he's asian).

    I've been saying the same thing TA said for quite some time -- most cultures have two ceremonies. One is religious and one is civil. Here, we've chosen to mix the two. Unfortunately, that's meant the religious right has dug their claws deeply and firmly into the word "marriage."

    That's why i think it needs to be completely removed from our law and replaced with another wording -- whether it be civil unions or something else.

    Remove the word marriage, and suddenly those fighting against it can be seen for what they are -- bigots.

    I can hardly stand sitting in church the weeks when gay marriage comes up. All I hear is them saying how selfish gays are because they want to hurt or destroy marriage for all us heteros. I want to know how two men or two women getting married is going to hurt my marriage... unless of course it's my husband marrying someone else or me marrying someone else.

  • Bill (unverified)

    It always drives me crazy to hear the "right's" reasons for being against gay marriage.

    But it's not just the "right's" reasons - it's religious reasons, or more precisely, evidence free religious prejudices, and these are held by rabidly evangelical Republicans and nice Christian or Catholic Blue Oregon Democrats alike.

    It was not just the right that voted for Measure 36 - the Albina Ministerial Alliance and many Black churchgoers apparently voted for Democrats while simultaneously amending our state's constitution to selectively exclude gays and lesbians from guaranteed basic protections that they fought so hard for themselves.

    Pleasant, caring people from St. Andrews Catholic Church supported Ted Kulongoski while tithing to the Archdiocese of Portland, one of the leading backers of Measure 36. The chief lobbyist for the Archdiocese, who attends nice St. Andrews, spent many weeks in Salem helping to crush civil unions last year.

    Civil unions (the basic contractual benefits and responsibilities of marriage) for every couple is the state's responsibility, with no religious test. If you want to follow that up in a synagogue or church, then your pastor, minister or imam can step in and discriminate all they want.

    But the problem is not just the right - the problem is allowing bigoted, unfounded religious ideas to determine who is considered a full citizen, with basic civil rights, instead of living up to the American promise of equal opportunity for all.

  • ws (unverified)

    Too bad this thread is jumping away. I like the way Jenni, Bill and some others here have carefully examined and illuminated the word "marriage", and how it plays into the hands of those that would impose their religious viewpoints upon all individuals and society as a whole.

    <h2>Amongst many people, there's still much anxiety and confusion surrounding the whole concept of life partnership and its vague definition, a definition perhaps inadvertently created and shared by church and state. Emphasising the semantical conflicts of the present life partner definition isn't likely to completely counter profound religion conditioned response on the part of many people in society to unions other than heterosexual. It may help them rest their fears in regards to threats they imagine those unions represent to the society in which they live, sufficient to allow them to stand up in support of rights all citizens in the U.S. citizens should be equally entitled to.</h2>

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