Oregon Senate Approves Same-sex Civil Unions

On Friday, a bill to recognize same-sex civil unions was approved by the Oregon Senate but faces challenges in the state House.

Senate Bill 1000 was approved by a 19 to 10 vote in the state Senate, where Democrats hold the majority. Senate Bill 1000 grants same-sex couples many of the same rights as marriage. The bill also protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The bill was sponsored by Senators Ben Westlund (R-Tumalo), Frank Morse (R-Albany, Kate Brown (D-Portland), and Alan Bates (D-Ashland). Despite Tumalo and Morse’s sponsorship, no other Republican Senators voted in favor of the bill.

Westlund said that the bill protects the basic rights of all people to have a family. Opponents argued that the bill essentially grants same-sex couples the rights of marriage, just under a different name. The bill, opponents say, violates the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, which was approved by voters in November 2004.

The bill is not expected to pass the Republican-led house. Republican leaders doubt the bill will even advance to a floor vote before the session ends.

Governor Ted Kulongoski, who supports the bill, encouraged supporters to keep working despite the challenges. Kulongoski had announced his support for same-sex civil unions earlier this year, when Connecticut legislators were debating the issue.

At that time, the state Supreme Court was also deciding upon the validity of 3,000 marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples in Multnomah County last year. The Supreme Court later rejected the licenses, declaring them null and void.

Currently, only two other states, Vermont and Connecticut, allow civil unions. Massachusetts stands alone in its recognition of same-sex marriage. Passage of Senate Bill 1000 would make Oregon the third state to allow civil unions. This week, California legislators will renew debates over a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.