Domestic-partners law in Oregon goes before judges again
Oregon's domestic-partnership law comes under the legal spotlight again this week, with opposite sides squaring off in front of a three-judge...
SALEM — Oregon's domestic-partnership law comes under the legal spotlight again this week, with opposite sides squaring off in front of a three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
At issue is whether state officials should have disqualified signatures on petitions calling for a statewide vote on the law in the 2008 general election.
Secretary of State Bill Bradbury's office announced in October that opponents fell just short of gathering the 55,179 signatures required to place the issue on the ballot.
A lower-court judge sided with the state and Basic Rights Oregon, the state's largest gay-rights organization.
But if the appeals-court judges disagree, it could have a major impact on the 2,200 same-sex couples who have registered for domestic partnerships in Oregon since the law took effect Feb. 1.
The couples do not get benefits conferred by federal law through marriage, such as Social Security payments and joint tax returns. But they and their children make gains on hospital visits, medical decisions, parental rights and other legal and financial issues.
The lawsuit was filed by 33 voters, led by Phillip Lemons of Phoenix, Ore., against Bradbury and elections officials in 10 counties.
Represented by the Alliance Defense Fund of Scottsdale, Ariz., the plaintiffs are arguing that elections officials have no consistent statewide standard for determining whether petition signatures were valid, and that they should have gone to greater lengths to allow voters to verify disputed signatures.
Lawyers for Basic Rights Oregon and the state counter that the right to vote is not the same as the right to sign petitions and that the two should not be granted equal weight under the law.
The Alliance Defense Fund is asking the appeals court to return the matter for action in U.S. District Court. Its lawyers originally asked the district court to order the state to put the law on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Lawyers for the state and Basic Rights Oregon suggested that if the appeals court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, the matter should go back to the secretary of state for a new review of all signatures submitted on the original petitions for the referendum.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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