When the legislative session began in January, there was a light at the end of the tunnel for gay and lesbian advocates who had been battered by Measure 36 in the November election. At that time, Governor Ted Kulongoski put forward SB1000, a comprehensive bill that promised not only to bring civil unions to the state, but also assured protections for gays and lesbians in employment and housing matters.

But on Monday, that hope dimmed when SB1000 was sliced in half. From here forward, what was once SB1000 will now be two separate bills--one that only addresses civil unions, and another that proposes to extend benefits to same-sex couples. It also would make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, or public services.

Legislative watchers suspect the split was encouraged by business owners who worried that extending benefits to partners of same-sex couples would cost their companies additional money.

Later this week, state senators sponsoring the civil union bill will draft its language. They plan to hold public hearings late next week.

But the remaining portions of SB 1000--the parts relating to antidiscrimination protections and extending benefits--will remain in a senate subcommittee, where they are likely to die.

A similar antidiscrimination bill was considered by the Washington state legislature earlier this year. That bill failed to pass the state senate there by a single vote.

Civil rights advocates blamed, in part, Seattle-based Microsoft, which took a neutral stance on the bill after an evangelical minister threatened the company with a national boycott if they came out in support.

In Oregon so far, Powell's, Norm Thompson Outfitters, and executives from Natures have publicly expressed their support for the bill. But other major employers like Nike and Intel remain uncommitted, as has the Portland Business Alliance.