Friday, May 04, 2007

Oregon approves gay partnerships

Oregon has become the latest state to approve some form of gay unions.

A bill giving Oregon's gay and lesbian couples the benefits of marriage through domestic partnerships won final legislative approval Wednesday.

The Senate endorsed the measure 21-9, sending it to Gov. Ted Kulongoski. The governor is a gay-rights supporter who says he will sign the bill along with another one passed last month to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The domestic partnership bill, set to take effect Jan. 1, would enable same-sex couples to enter into contractual relationships that grant them the same benefits that state law offers to married couples.

This is the purest "technical" form of gay unions out there. It's not marriage, it's not even civil unions. It just lets two same-sex people sign contracts giving them the legal benefits of marriage.

What's interesting is the reason for that approach: In 2004 Oregon was one of 11 states that adopted constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. Which demonstrates that such amendments, while preventing full marriage rights for gays, are not a serious barrier to providing basic legal fairness -- unless you're in one of the states that banned not only gay marriage but also civil unions or anything that provides benefits resembling those of marriage. Those broad measures weren't just about defending the institution of marriage -- they were flat-out spiteful.

That makes seven states that have civil unions or partnerships -- California, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, Vermont, Washington and now Oregon. In addition, New Hampshire will adopt civil unions once the governor signs a bill now sitting on his desk. And, of course, Massachusetts allows outright gay marriage.

Many cities -- notably New York and Washington, D.C. -- also recognize domestic partners.

That's nine states covering 67.8 million people -- nearly a fourth of the U.S. population. If New York, against the odds, adopts Gov. Eliot Spitzer's proposed gay marriage law, that would surge to 10 states covering 87.1 million people, or nearly a third of the population.

Of course, such state-level actions do not address things like federal tax benefits, which is why the federal government eventually needs to step up and recognize same-sex unions as well. But it's a start.

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