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Civil unions create fairness for all Oregonians

Senate Bill 1000 deserves full support from all lawmakers

Legislators can accomplish something important this week when Senate Bill 1000 gets its second chance at life. The bill would create civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, and it would extend anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Passing this bill is the right thing to do. Legislators from both parties should support it.

The bill was introduced months ago by Gov. Ted Kulongoski and several senators, only to be hacked apart in hopes that one half would survive. Now, just when bills are being held hostage or diluted beyond recognition, the old Senate Bill 1000 is back.

Pairing civil rights and civil unions may not be politically expedient. No matter how legislators vote, they will anger some constituents. Still, this bill deserves an up-or-down vote, not a quiet death in committee.

Last fall's campaign for Ballot Measure 36, which amended the Oregon Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, revived echoes of the state's anti-gay past. Backers of the amendment insisted they had nothing against gay and lesbian people or allowing them some legal protections through civil unions. It's time for them to deliver.

One interpretation of that lopsided vote is that Oregonians think that committed, faithful relationships are in society's best interest, especially when children are involved.

Thousands of gay and lesbian couples are in such relationships. Straight people do not need to approve of them or even feel comfortable about them, but they should be willing to grant their fellow Oregonians certain legal rights and protections in state law. Senate Bill 1000 would do this.

For legislators who would reject civil unions because they are "marriage under another name," consider: Would they or their family trade places?

Let some gay couple have "marriage," with all its automatic privileges and its cheerful associations, and start planning a civil-union ceremony for their straight son or daughter?

Chances are they would say no -- that civil unions, especially ones that have yet to be codified in Oregon law, are a distant second-best to marriage. But voters have reserved marriage for heterosexual couples. Give gay and lesbian couples something.

Some legislators don't see why gay and lesbian people need protection in housing, employment, public accommodation, education and public services -- the other half of Senate Bill 1000. They ought to spend a day with some of their gay and lesbian constituents. Learn their stories, and then judge how valuable those protections might be.

Last week, Nike, Oregon's only Fortune 500 company, came out strongly in favor of civil unions and civil-rights protections for gay and lesbian Oregonians. That's the kind of forward-thinking image that Oregon should convey.

Legislators have a chance to make something of this mediocre session. They should stand up for fairness to all Oregonians by passing Senate Bill 1000.
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