On Jan. 2, 2008, when we should have been celebrating the implementation of the two new pro-equality laws, my daughter and I instead joined more than 130 Central Oregonians on the downtown corner of Wall and Greenwood for a candlelight vigil, because, incredulously, the domestic partnership law was stalled. While we can still celebrate the fact that it is no longer legal for people to fire someone because he is gay, or deny someone housing because she is a lesbian (and celebrate we will!), we must also deal with the outrage and impact that this stall will have on families across Oregon.
For decades, pro-equality advocates have been working to pass legislation that would grant a limited set of rights, responsibilities and protections - called domestic partnerships - to same-sex couples. During the 2007 legislative session, this work paid off, and in May 2007, Governor Kulongoski signed into law the Oregon Family Fairness Act - a domestic partnership law protecting same sex couples and their families.
There was short time of celebration before a Tennessee-based group (yes, that's correct, an out of state anti-equality group) called "Restore America" led a failed effort to gather signatures to overturn the law by referendum. Our domestic partnership law remained intact and we excitedly awaited Jan. 2 for its implementation.
But just days before the law was to go into effect, we learned that another out of state anti-equality group brought forward a lawsuit, wherein the plaintiffs claimed that certain voters who had signed petitions, and whose signatures had been rejected by elections officials based on well-established criteria, should have those signatures restored.
It's important to note that the Oregon Secretary of State has used the same criteria for determining the number of valid signatures submitted for petition-gathering efforts for decades. Yet these anti-equality interest groups, having failed to meet those standards, are now demanding that the rules be changed. In response to the lawsuit, the court issued a temporary restraining order, which prevents the law from going into effect - at least until the next hearing on Feb. 1.
For the past 16 years, Human Dignity Coalition has been here to advocate and build community for sexual and gender identity minorities and their allies. We have partnered with the statewide organization, Basic Rights Oregon, to pass pro-equality legislation for all Oregonians and have created the platform for the Central Oregon voice to be heard. But, as last Wednesday night showed, this legal stall has not oppressed our voices - instead we are even more dedicated to ensuring equality for all.
Without domestic partnerships, Oregonians in caring, committed relationships lack the most basic protections for their relationships and their children. They lack the right to participate in medical and end of life decisions, the ability to resolve inheritance and estate issues, ensure parental rights and obligations, obtain health benefits and gain access to their children's school or medical records. For my community, for my family and for my friends, I am committed to seeing this changed. I want my daughter to grow up in a place where she can live free from oppression, regardless of whom she loves. It's a civil rights matter I would like to see it overcome. And if not in my lifetime, then in hers.
Jenni Peskin is the executive director of the Human Dignity Coalition in Central Oregon.Here's how you can help:
* Stay informed (www.basicrights.org) because if this law somehow does get overturned and you have to vote on it in November, you'll want the power to vote for equality.
* Join other Central Oregonians in Portland on Jan. 30 for a pro-equality rally. Never been to a rally before? Oh gee, don't know what you're missing. Basic Rights Oregon and Human Dignity Coalition will connect you to a carpool - contact us firstname.lastname@example.org
* Donate your time and/or money to Human Dignity Coalition or Basic Rights Oregon. www.humandignitycoalition.org or www.basicrights.org
* Tell your friends, be a teacher, be an advocate, and be an activist just by talking. It will empower you. It will empower our community. And it WILL make a difference in lives of families living in Oregon.