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Governor talks about gay rights at luncheon

Gov. Ted Kulongoski told representatives from Oregon's businesses on Wednesday he's prepared to fight "for as long as it takes" to pass legislation that will provide and protect rights for gays and lesbians.

He also criticized the Legislature for not yet acting to ensure gay-rights legislation is passed this session.

Kulongoski spoke at the annual fund-raiser lunch for Basic Rights Oregon, a non-profit group that works for gay rights issues. Many among the 500 people at the lunch represent Oregon businesses, including Nike, Powell's Books and Portland General Electric.

Kulongoski told them all committed couples need to be respected equally, and called on lawmakers who say they support such equality to start working on legislation.

"Now is the time for the Legislature to stop clapping and start acting," he said.

Kulongoski wants lawmakers to pass a Senate Bill he introduced that would grant the rights of marriage to gay and lesbian couples through civil unions and would make discrimination based on sexual preference illegal.

He said it would be "morally unacceptable" not to pass the bill, and said the legislation is needed because sexual descrimination still exists in Oregon.

While those at the event praised Kulongoski, Tim Nashif of the Defense of Marriage Coalition criticized Kulongoski's Senate bill as an attempt to "basically gut marriage."

Nashif's group supports "reciprocal benefits," which would grant selected rights to all sorts of family groups, including two brothers living together or two friends. A bill will be introduced soon to provide for reciprocal benefits. (TO LEARN HOW RECIPROCAL BENEFITS UNDERMINE TRUE EQUALITY CLICK HERE)

Nashif said the group is opposed to Kulongoski's bill because it grants all the rights of marriage to gay couples and also give gays "minority status."

Kulongoski, however, said the recent Supreme Court ruling that cancelled 3,000 marriage licenses issued to gay and lesbian couples by Multnomah County "clearly left the door open for the Legislature to create civil unions."

"This is an opportunity they must not miss," he said.

Kulongoski's remarks were met with applause and a standing ovation.

"It feels good to be in a state where the governor has taken that kind of leadership," said Kregg Arntson, a spokesman for Portland General Electric who attended the event.

The governor was praised by Basic Rights Oregon for his long-running support of gay rights.

"Nowhere else has a governor stepped up to take leadership in a way that this governor has," said Roey Thorpe, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon.

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