Last Wednesday, hundreds of Oregon residents descended upon Salem to support Senate Bill 1000, the moderate legislative bill that, if passed, will provide sweeping anti-discrimination policy for gays and lesbians, as well as a plan to provide civil unions for same-sex couples. Testimony from the hundreds of supporters pushed the State Senate Rules Committee hearing late into the night.

But what may prove most convincing and critical to the moderate legislators--those swing voters needed to pass the bill--may not be the testimony in favor of SB 1000, but oddly enough, the testimony against the bill. Once again proving that Oregon's Christian Right can be its own worst enemy, the more they spoke in the Senate Committee, the more they seemed to prove that there exists a fervent homophobic mentality in Oregon from which the queer community needs protection.

Sitting in front of the committee, State Sen. Charles Starr (R-Hillsboro) reminisced about the days when homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. He and others--including Rep. Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point) and Oregon Family Council lobbyist Tootie Smith--went on to argue that homosexuality is a learned behavior, citing as proof the small handful of miserable gay and lesbian souls who have willingly gone back into the closet. Others expressed a fear that their children will be taught that gay-bashing is wrong.

Looking at recent history in Oregon finds that such testimony actually can work against its advocates. Last summer, for example, when the city of Bend began considering an anti-discrimination ordinance, the city council was evenly split. But after the religious right showed up to denounce the proposed law, even the conservative councilors became convinced that gays and lesbians really did need protection. Ultimately, they voted unanimously to pass the ordinance.

If the Rules Committee, chaired by SB 1000 co-sponsor Kate Brown, votes to pass the bill, it will proceed to the floor of the senate. Once approved by the senate, it will be assigned by Speaker of the House Karen Minnis (R-Wood Vilage) to a House committee, where its likelihood of passing is less clear.