Judge Delays Oregon Domestic Partner Law

December 31, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.COM) - Declaring that he needed more information about how Oregon state officials turned away gay rights opponents' civil unions ballot initiative request, a federal judge has ordered the state not to implement its domestic partnership law.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon said the groups opposing the new law should have a chance to prove their eligibility to get an anti-gay rights referendum on a statewide ballot, according to a news report in the Portland Oregonian.

Mosman said that a fundamental right is at stake when voters sign petitions. What’s being challenged is the ability of a state agent to make “a subjective and unilateral” decision to kick out the signature without the person being heard, he said, according to the news report.   

The state’s domestic partnership law giving gays and lesbians most of the benefits of married couples, was scheduled to go into effect January 1.

The opposition groups are challenging the state’s voter signature verification method after their referendum petition fell short by 96 signatures of the 55,179 needed to get on the ballot. Based on evidence already presented, Mossman asserted that the rights of voters may have been violated if their signatures were wrongly rejected, the news report said. .

The ruling does not affect a companion state law that will take effect next week to ban discrimination against gays in work, housing, and public places. The two new laws, both passed by the 2007 Legislature, marked the biggest advance for gay rights in Oregon history. Nine other states have similar laws granting legal recognition to gay couples.

According to the newspaper, the new law would allow gays and lesbians to file joint state tax returns, inherit each other’s property, make medical decisions for each other and enjoy most of the other state benefits and responsibilities that married residents receive. If they have a falling out, they would have to go to court to dissolve their union just as married couples do. Same-sex partners with children could end up facing child support payments if they dissolve their domestic partnerships.

Oregon domestic partnerships, however, would carry no legal authority in other states nor would the federal government recognize them.

The case is Lemons et al v. Bradbury et al 3:07-cv-01782-MO.