Last Tuesday evening, state representative Mary Nolan (D-Portland) put forward HB 3508, a legislative bill to legalize civil unions for gays and lesbians. On the surface, it's admirable; a shout out for equality for gays and lesbians.

But, in the context of the current legislative session, which is quickly winding down, it is an odd, even sad, attempt at political schmoozing--all sound and fury, ultimately signifying nothing.

In Nolan's case, timing was everything: In the days proceeding the introduction of HB 3508, the staunchly conservative House Speaker, Karen Minnis, had effectively killed any real hope for civil unions by refusing to allow SB 1000 its opportunity to get a vote on the floor. (SB 1000, which would have legalized civil unions, had easily passed the Senate in June, but met stiff opposition in the House.) In late July, Minnis finally referred SB 1000 to a sternly conservative legislative committee, which immediately gutted any language favoring civil unions, replacing it with wording that would have maintained the second-class citizen rights for gays and lesbians.

Responding to SB 1000's gut job, Nolan said she was introducing HB 3508 as an attempt to revitalize hope for civil unions and, in a press release, she expressed her displeasure with Minnis. Nolan demanded a vote on civil unions.

But the timing of that statement is critical: The legislative session is effectively over. Had Nolan stepped forward a month ago, when there was still time in the legislative session for a full debate and vote on civil unions, she could have made a bold statement. Instead, this bill seems more like a face-saving act--a way to tell her constituents back in Portland, "Well, at least I tried."

We're all for standing up to Minnis--but where was the real leadership and brashness for civil rights when it mattered?