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Court to rule Thursday on same-sex couples

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Supreme Court will rule Thursday on nearly 3,000 marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples last year in Multnomah County before the practice was stopped, the court said in an announcement on its Web site.

Multnomah County Circuit Judge Frank Bearden ordered the county to stop issuing the licenses in April 2004 and recommended that the 2005 Legislature craft a law that would guarantee gay and lesbian couples the same rights as married couples.

But the ruling was appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court after the Defense of Marriage Coalition challenged the validity of the marriage licenses issued by Multnomah County.

Without elaboration, the high court said on its Web site Wednesday it will rule Thursday on that challenge.
Members of the Legislature have been awaiting the Supreme Court's ruling to give them guidance on how to proceed on the issue of same-sex couples.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski announced Wednesday he would push for a civil unions bill to give gay and lesbian couples some of the rights bestowed on married couples.

Kulongoski pledged to back a civil unions law expands on his announcement in January that he would support legislation extending anti-discrimination protections to gays and lesbians.

The Democratic governor said Wednesday that he is working with a bipartisan group of senators on a bill that combines a proposed civil unions law with the anti-discrimination provisions.

"As I stated in January, we face a great moral challenge to make sure opportunity is an open door through which every citizen can pass — not a revolving door which turns for some and doesn't budge for others," he said.

The legal limbo over the Supreme Court's upcoming ruling had kept Senate Democrats from pushing bills that create civil unions and advance gay rights.

But Kulongoski said he is moving ahead on the civil unions and anti-discrimination legislation. The bill is co-sponsored by Democratic Sens. Kate Brown of Portland and Alan Bates of Ashland and Republican Sens. Frank Morse of Albany and Ben Westlund of Bend.

The state's leading gay rights group, Basic Rights Oregon, praised the governor's decision to move ahead on civil unions legislation.

"All Oregonians should take pride today in Gov. Kulongoski's tremendous public and personal commitment to ending discrimination," said Roey Thorpe, the group's executive director.

Republican leaders in the House had no immediate reaction to Kulongoski's announcement that he was backing civil unions legislation, said Chuck Deister, a spokesman for House Speaker Karen Minnis.

However, Deister said last week that House Republicans would wait to see how the state Supreme Court rules before moving on the issue.

In Wednesday's announcement, Kulongoski said the civil unions bill he's now pushing would confer on same-sex couples the legal protections, rights and responsibilities generally afforded to married couples.

The bill also would amend Oregon's existing anti-discrimination laws to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment, public accommodation, education and public services.

By BRAD CAIN The Associated Press
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