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Sexual Orientation Discrimination Must End

By Daniel E. H. Bryant
For The Register-Guard
Published: Monday, January 15, 2007 (reprinted here with permission)

 

Throughout most of last year, I was honored to serve our state as a member of the Governor's Task Force on Equality. I and 10 other Oregonians were charged by Gov. Ted Kulongoski to consider whether changes in law are needed to guarantee that all Oregonians are adequately protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The task force reviewed anti-discrimination laws adopted by eight Oregon cities, two Oregon counties and other states, as well as bills proposed during past legislative sessions. We learned that more than a dozen states already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The task force also reviewed the laws of states such as Vermont and California, which provide for legal recognition and protection of committed, same-sex relationships. In addition, we heard compelling public testimony from Oregonians who had experienced discrimination firsthand, from clergy and business people, and from parents and community leaders in a series of public hearings around the state.

Through these hearings, it became clear to me that most Oregonians believe that discrimination is wrong. What many don't know is that in most of our communities, it's perfectly legal.

That means that some Oregonians - who live and work in this state, pay taxes and contribute to their communities - can be denied a job, refused housing or turned away from a table in a restaurant for no other reason than that they are, or appear to be, gay.

In addition to learning about this blatant discrimination, we heard over and over again from Oregonians in committed partnerships who lack the most basic protections for their relationships and their children. They lack the right to make medical and end-of-life decisions, resolve inheritance and estate issues, ensure parental rights and obligations, obtain health benefits, gain access to a child's school or medical records, and hundreds more.

I was particularly moved by the testimony of a woman in Medford who spoke of the thousands of dollars she and her partner spent on legal fees and documentation to receive some of the legal protections a married couple receive with their wedding license. And yet, when they had taken every legal means available to formalize their commitment to one another, they had only scratched the surface of the rights married couples take for granted.

As I listened to this woman's testimony, it occurred to me that if each of the 300 couples I have married in my 22 years of ministry invested in their relationship even half of what this couple had in theirs, there would not be a single divorce among them.

The recently released report of the Governor's Task Force on Equality - hopefully not lost in the holiday season - urges the Legislature to enact a statewide anti-discrimination law that would protect all Oregonians, gay or straight, from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In addition, we recommended that the Legislature create legal recognition and protection for same-sex couples and their families, within the confines of the Measure 36, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

These recommendations by the task force represent simple and common sense ways to make sure Oregon's values are reflected in the laws we live by.

In response to a concern from a religious organization, the task force recommended that any legislation include language protecting the right of churches and religious institutions to continue to operate according to the tenets of their faith to the fullest extent, as stated in the U.S. and Oregon constitutions.

As the Legislature begins its new session, we face a great moral challenge: Will Oregon continue to be a state where some residents are forced to live as second-class citizens through no fault of their own? Will we accept the status quo that some in our state are more deserving of equality than others? Or will we affirm Oregon's values of fairness, dignity and respect for all our citizens?

These are not just philosophical questions. Until we do what's right, a moral wrong that could have been - and should have been - corrected long ago will remain a stain on the state we love and on the character of all of us who allow this injustice to continue.

I invite you to join me in sending this message to our legislators: Please search your hearts to answer the moral challenge presented by this discrimination allowed in the laws of our state.

Then, dear legislators, please search your own consciences for the courage to do something about it.

Daniel Bryant is the senior minister of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Eugene and was a member of the 2006 Governor's Task Force on Equality. The task force's report can be found at http://governor.oregon.gov/Gov /pdf/letters/TaskforceOnEquality.pdf.

 


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