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
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
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
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
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
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