"The events of September 11 kind of raised public awareness about the danger that firefighters and police officers are in, and people started to realize that some of those officers have same-sex partners," said Roey Thorpe, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, a lesbian/gay/bi/trans (lgbt) advocacy group. Though Oregon is one of the first states to establish such laws, in New York, Governor Pataki recently initiated a similar ordinance in order to compensate the same-sex partners of the victims of September 11.
By unanimous decision, the city commissioners expanded the scope of a groundbreaking lawsuit four years ago. In 1998, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in the case Tanner vs. Oregon Health Sciences University that OHSU must grant health insurance benefits to same-sex partners of OHSU employees. Carl Kiss, the lawyer who represented Tanner in the lawsuit, explained that since that ruling, "every privilege that every public employer [in Oregon] offers to its employees must be offered on equal terms to their gay and lesbian employees."
Yet, even though the court's decision has been on the books for four years, advocates wanted to chisel the legal precedent into the City of Portland's policies.
To the surprise of advocates of the ordinance, there were no objectors at Wednesday's meeting. Advocates declined to comment on whether they plan to pursue the establishment of further benefits for public employees in other sectors of government.
However, as Thorpe with Basic Rights Oregon pointed out, this ordinance is still a way of skirting the larger, legal obstacle for the lgbt community. "The sad fact is that none of this would be necessary if same-sex marriages were legal," she said.