Students campiagn for civil unions

In a campaign supported entirely by outside donations, College Democrats kicked off a postcard drive in support of Senate Bill 1000 Monday.

The bill would create civil unions and extend all the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, similar to Vermont law. The state bill has had one public hearing at the Capitol. Though Democrats and Republicans alike have sponsored the bill, most support comes from the Democratic side of the aisle.

The College Democrats hope to gather 1,000 signatures this week. Each petitioner can fill out four cards: one for SB 1000 supporter and Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown, Speaker of the House Karen Minnis, and one each for the petitioner’s state representative and senator.

Since the passage of Measure 36, which constitutionally defined marriage as a solely heterosexual establishment in Oregon, Portland State has had little formal debate about same-sex marriage supporters’ next move.

Part of the silence is institutionalized. Student groups funded by student fees (SFC groups) may not use their funding to advocate for one political position or candidate over another. The political student groups receive substantially less funding from the Student Organization Committee but are free to spend those funds on political advocacy.

As a group funded by the Student Organization Committee, College Democrats may lobby however they wish. However, the group has run out of money, Kento Azegami of the College Democrats said.

Azegami said that Tonantzin Oceguera, who oversees Student Activities and Leadership Programs, advised him that sympathetic groups such as Queers & Allies – who can receive more funding under SFC classification – cannot donate money to the College Democrats to use in a political campaign.

Local company Witham & Dickey printed the postcards free of charge. Basic Rights Oregon, the state’s most visible gay-rights lobby, donated everything else.

As a middle-of-the-road proposal, SB 1000 has taken heat from gay rights activists as well as traditional marriage activists.

Civil unions have long been characterized as a throwback to “separate but equal” segregation laws by gay rights activists, but groups in opposition say the bill is gay marriage all over again.

Oregon Family Council, known for its affiliate Defense of Marriage Coalition during the election season, describes SB 1000 as “basically gay marriage in disguise.”

Azegami said he supports the civil union proposal, which also includes language to outlaw gender discrimination, as a beginning step toward a larger goal of legalizing gay marriage.

“My theory is that you have to draw a line in the sand somewhere,” he said. “It’s important we take action to protect the rights we can right now.”

He said the group plans to oppose the House Bill 3476, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives’ “reciprocal beneficiaries” bill, which provides very few benefits of marriage to couples.

College Democrats plan to personally deliver the cards to legislators.