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Civil unions: A cease-fire

It’s time for Oregon’s culture war over gay rights to be winding down. Senate Bill 1000 is one reasonable way to bring about a cease-fire.

The main argument used to be over whether gay-rights legislation conferred special rights on those affected. That question has lost most of its meaning because in the private as well as public sectors, employment law has made discrimination against just about anybody illegal. So everybody has special rights.

The question of gay marriage also has been settled. There is no such thing. Oregon voters said so last fall. On Thursday the Oregon Supreme Court validated the voters’ decision, agreeing that Oregon law has provided all along exactly what last year’s ballot initiative
said.

That leaves the question of civil unions. Whether anybody approves or not - and many don’t - society in general has long ago accepted that some people live in same-sex unions. The country has survived. It’s time to recognize that people in those unions have the same rights and responsibilities that adults in traditional households have.

There is no practical reason to object to legally recognizing civil unions. Not recognizing them won’t make them go away.

On the other hand, there’s a good argument for legal recognition. It solves practical problems from child support to inheritance rights and the responsibility of looking after a partner who is ill.

As a rule of thumb, the fewer laws we have, the better off we are. This principle argues against adding sexual orientation to the anti-discrimination law, especially considering how rare this kind of discrimination is these days. But also, because it is rare, expanding the law is unlikely to have a big impact on daily life in Oregon. If lawsuits ensue, they likely will be few and far between.

Sen. Frank Morse of Albany is cosponsoring the new gay-rights bill in the Legislature because he says it’s the right thing to do. It also sounds like the practical thing to do.

The bill would put a formal end to the Oregon war of words over gay rights. It would do so in a way that hurts no one and may help some people. There’s nothing wrong with that.
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