Students join rally for civil unions

Several Portland State students will join supporters of gay rights in Salem today to rally for a bill that would allow civil unions for same-sex couples in Oregon.

Testimony on the bill, Senate Bill 1000, which has bi-partisan support in the senate and also the support of Gov. Ted Kulongoski, will be heard in Salem today at 5 p.m.

The bill would ban discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation (which, as defined in the bill, includes actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or gender identity), national origin, marital status, age or disability.

The bill would also create civil unions extending many of the benefits and responsibilities given by the state to married couples of opposite sexes to same-sex couples. The bill was drafted by the sponsors and the governor at the request of Basic Rights Oregon, the state’s largest gay and lesbian rights organization.

If enacted, the bill would take every Oregon statute that applies to marriage and change it to apply also to civil unions.

Still, Basic Rights Oregon Spokeswoman Rebekah Kassell notes that this does not mean that civilly united couples would receive all of the same benefits of marriage, since the bill “includes none of the nearly 1,100 federal protections” allowed to married heterosexual couples.

Of the bill’s relation to Measure 36, legislation passed by 53 percent of Oregon voters that defined marriage as between one woman and one man, Kassell said, “there isn’t a connection, because at least two-thirds of Oregon voters are supporters of civil unions.”

At 4 p.m. today, an hour before the Senate hearing, Basic Rights Oregon, along with their supporters and the bill’s sponsors, will rally outside the capitol before going inside where attorneys, former elected officials, same-sex families and others will testify in support.

Leticia Chavez, equal rights advocate for the Associated Students of Portland State University, and other PSU students will join Basic Rights Oregon at the rally to show their support for SB 1000.

The Oregon Family Council (OFC), a group opposed to the civil unions bill, is scheduled to present its position on the issue to the Senate, according to OFC spokesman Nick Graham.

The OFC is opposed to SB 1000 “for a variety of reasons,” according to Graham. The group’s first objection is that the bill would create for homosexuals what Graham calls “minority status.” OFC questions whether this group of people qualifies for such protections.

The second objection the OFC has to the bill is in regard to the establishment of civil unions. Though Graham admits, “We weren’t opposed to civil unions in theory” during the Measure 36 campaign, the organization is opposed to SB 1000 because of phrasing in the bill that would, Graham claims, create civil unions that are exactly the same as marriage with a different name.

Because of what they see as broad sweeping changes to Oregon’s law and statutes and the equal rights and protections this bill would allow for same-sex couples, Graham and the OFC say that “it’s very easy to see how [SB 1000] conflicts with Measure 36. You can name a chair a desk, but it’s still a chair.”