On Monday afternoon in Salem, state senators listened to hours of testimony on a bill—Senate Bill 2 (SB2)—that would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill's supporters—including Basic Rights Oregon, and businesses like Nike—showed up in force to make the case that gays and lesbians are discriminated against in Oregon on a regular basis, and a law protecting gays (and transgendered people) in employment, housing, and public accommodations was long overdue.
But those who were opposing the bill—many at the behest of the conservative Oregon Family Council (OFC)—unwittingly did a better job of making the case for the anti-discrimination law, by trotting out thinly veiled insults against gays and citing "evidence" that homosexuality is immoral, "harmful," and "destructive." Others made outlandish and baseless claims that gays have a life expectancy of around 40 years, and that gays are "17 times more likely" to be sexual predators.
Nick Graham, OFC's communications director, was one of two invited speakers opposed to the bill (five members of the governor's Taskforce on Equality, which recommended the bill, spoke in favor of it; public testimony followed the invited testimony). Graham stuck to the OFC's talking points, claiming the bill's exemptions for religious organizations and churches weren't strong enough, the law would prompt frivolous lawsuits against businesses, and that sexual orientation shouldn't be granted minority status (OFC's "reasons to oppose SB2" say that gays meet "none of" the qualifications for minority status, which include being politically powerless; apparently the OFC believes that things like Measure 36's passage and the decades-long legislative fight to pass an anti-discrimination bill demonstrate gays' political power). Graham tried to have it both ways, simultaneously arguing there was very little discrimination in Oregon to begin with, making the law unnecessary, and that the anti-discrimination bill would be a huge burden on the state.
Other opponents of the bill—like former State Senator Charles Starr—claimed the bill might lead to reverse discrimination, by oppressing anti-gay Christians.
"To say that [gays'] sex acts are unhealthy or against nature would bring forth outright suppression of biblical truths," Starr said.
Another man testifying later in the afternoon claimed the law would "criminalize the Christian worldview that simply wants to state that it's okay to believe that a certain lifestyle choice is immoral."
In 2005, a similar bill—coupled with civil unions—passed through the state senate, but died in a house committee without ever getting a hearing. On Monday evening—despite opponents' inflammatory rhetoric—SB2 passed out of committee 3-1, and is now heading toward the senate floor.