With civil unions still nowhere in sight, and discriminatory state laws still in abundance, Basic Rights Oregon (BRO) has a new star in its fight for equality: Portland City Commissioner—and unabashed media darling—Sam Adams.
Early last year, BRO embarked on a new strategy, launching several lawsuits against the state to get equal treatment for same-sex couples. The three suits filed in 2006 revolved around partnership benefits—they were details that are important to couples, if slightly mundane. For instance, the most recent suit, filed on Tuesday, February 20, challenges the state to allow for public employee benefits to be divided when same-sex partners break up; but this time, BRO has Adams on its side, who is bound to attract attention despite the relative obscurity of the issue.
The lawsuit involved Adams and his former domestic partner of 11 years, Greg Eddie. The couple broke up in 2004, during Adams' campaign for city council, and they began dividing all of the property they had accumulated during their time together. But when they attempted to divide Adams' public employee retirement (PERS) account, according to Eddie, they "hit a wall." Normally, when straight couples get divorced, this would happen by court order—but since Adams and Eddie couldn't be legally married (or legally divorced), state law won't allow the funds to be divided.
This, the plaintiffs say, is in violation of the state constitution and the 1998 state appeals court ruling in Tanner v. OHSU, which requires the state to treat married couples and same-sex partnerships equally. So far, the State of Oregon has refused to implement most of the policy changes needed to comply with the ruling, including the way that retirement benefits are divided.
The suit filed on Tuesday (Adams v. Eddie) seeks to have the PERS account divided—more broadly, the suit asks that the PERS law be ruled unconstitutional, so that other same-sex couples won't have to sue.
Meanwhile, the state legislature is currently meeting for the second time since Measure 36 passed—and this time both houses are controlled by Democrats. Lawmakers could conceivably fix all of the ways in which the state is discriminating against gays and lesbians, but so far—two months into the session—nothing has yet been introduced.