Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed legislation Wednesday that will allow some legal rights for gay couples, joining nearly a dozen other states that recognize gay marriage or domestic partnerships. The NewsHour looks at the debate over same-sex civil unions.
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Now, Oregon's new law on domestic partnerships. Today, Governor Ted Kulongoski signed legislation making Oregon the latest state on the West Coast — along with California and Washington — to provide some legal rights for gay and lesbian partners.
The West Coast now mirrors New England, where all of the states recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships or, in the case of Massachusetts, same-sex marriage.
Civil unions provide some of the legal benefits of marriage, but not all of the same rights. And those rights are limited to just the given state. NewsHour correspondent Lee Hochberg of Oregon Public Broadcasting looks at how the debate played out there.
LEE HOCHBERG, NewsHour Correspondent:
The bill the governor signed today legalizing domestic partnerships for Oregon's 11,000 same-sex couples marks a profound shift for Oregon and for couples like Dolores Doyle and Kelly Burke.
KELLY BURKE, Oregon Resident:
The representatives of my community and my state stood up for us and finally said that we were — you know, we were valid citizens of this state as much as anyone else.
Oregon seemed an unlikely choice to pass domestic partnerships. Between 1988 and 2000, ballot measures in the state sought to strip gays of job protections. One tried to amend the state constitution to, quote, "stigmatize homosexuality as abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse."
Only one of the measures passed statewide, and it was declared unconstitutional, but some counties later voted for similar, local ordinances.
Those whom God has so joined together, let no one separate.
But in 2004, same-sex marriages were allowed in the state's largest county, which includes the city of Portland. The attorney general there said it was illegal to refuse gay and lesbian couples that right.
Burke and Doyle, who'd been together for 16 years, joined the highly public rush to get married. A major reason was to finally get Burke covered on Doyle's health plan.
It's not real romantic. Yes, it was not romantic, I think, in any way. It was not about the fantasy people have about marriage or about a wedding. You know, for us, it was about the ability to take care of each other and knowing that our kids would be safe, that they'd have an extra layer of protection, that their family was going to be recognized.