Gay rights opponents say state unfairly excluded names on petitions calling for referendum on DP law
PORTLAND, Ore. A federal judge on Friday, Dec. 28, placed on hold a state domestic partnership law that was set to take effect in Oregon on Jan. 1, pending a February hearing.
The law would have given some spousal rights to gay couples.
Opponents asked U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman to intercede after the Oregon secretary of state’s office ruled in October that they had failed to collect enough valid signatures on a referendum to block the law.
The Oregon measure covers benefits related to inheritance rights, child-rearing and custody, joint state tax filings, joint health, auto and homeowners insurance policies, visitation rights at hospitals and others. It does not affect federal benefits for married couples, including Social Security and joint filing of federal tax returns.
After the legislature approved the domestic partnership law this year, gay rights opponents launched an effort to collect enough signatures to suspend the law and place it on the November 2008 ballot for a statewide vote. But state elections officials said this fall that the effort fell 116 valid signatures short of the 55,179 needed to suspend the law.
In court Friday, Austin Nimocks, a lawyer for Alliance Defense Fund, representing the anti gay rights group, said the state’s review process was flawed, violating the rights of citizens who had signed petitions.
“It’s a fundamental right to participate in democracy,” Nimocks said.
Mosman said that rights of voters may indeed have been violated if their signatures were unfairly disqualified, and thus he’d grant the temporary stay.
Margaret Olney, attorney for Basic Rights Oregon, the state’s largest gay rights group, said the judge “misunderstood the referendum process in a number of ways.”
“The idea that there is some individual vested right when you sign your name is wrong,” Olney said. “It’s equating a signature to a vote.”
Another Oregon law scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 that outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation was not challenged in this case and will stand.
In 2004, about 3,000 same-sex couples were granted marriage licenses in Multnomah County, the largest county in Oregon. But later that year, Oregon voters approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage. The Oregon Supreme Court nullified the 3,000 licenses as unconstitutional in 2005.
Eight other states have approved spousal rights in some form for same-sex couples Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Maine, California, Washington and Hawaii. Massachusetts is the only state that allows gay couples to marry.
Judge Mosman said he wanted a speedy resolution in the case, saying that would be more “to the public’s advantage than to be in a state of limbo.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 4, 2008