George Pfromm II
Last year, when the Multnomah County commissioners changed policy to allow same-sex couples to marry, they had hoped Governor Ted Kulongoski would stand behind them and support further changes around the state. Instead, he balked, largely staying mum throughout the controversy.

But more recently, in his State of the State address a few weeks ago, Kulongoski spoke out for gay and lesbian rights when he pledged to introduce a bill to the state legislature that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. And last week, Kulongoski did just that by introducing Senate Bill 176.

If the bill passes, sexual orientation will be included in the list of characteristics--like age, race, gender, religion--that cannot be discriminated against. Such protections reach into areas of employment, housing, education, and public accommodations. Although the bill does not speak directly to the hot-button issue of same-sex marriage, it does push forward a broad base for gay and lesbian rights.

Unsurprisingly, Kulongoski's S.B. 176 is bringing out some familiar right-wing faces. Among them, Tim Nashif-- head of the Oregon Family Council and the Defense of Marriage Coalition (DOMC)--who says such legislation isn't necessary because, according to him, discrimination against gays and lesbians simply doesn't exist in Oregon.

In an interview with the Mercury, Nashif--the person who steered the massive petition drive and grassroots effort that led to Measure 36's passage--has pledged to fight the bill. Nashif said he was blindsided by Kulongoski's bill, which he alternately described as "irresponsible," "dangerous," and, most notably, "unnecessary."

"Why are we addressing an issue that's not a problem?" Nashif complained. "[Discrimination is] just not happening."

When asked what his response would be if, during the course of the legislative session, gays and lesbians testified they had in fact been discriminated against in housing, employment, education, or public accommodation, Nashif responded these people would have had to "manufacture the abuse."

Going even further, the GOP veteran argued the familiar "special rights" defense--that an anti-discrimination law would give an "unnecessary, unfair advantage to a group that some people don't think is a minority."

"I don't understand whose hole this bill crawled out of," he added.

But it remains to be seen exactly what power and sway Nashif and the DOMC holds in the state legislature. Ultimately, S.B. 176 could end up being the proving--or failing--grounds for DOMC.

Although Nashif commanded considerable sway over voters, helping push Measure 36 to victory, such strength does not always translate into lobbying power within the state legislature. Already some high-profile Republicans have publicly pledged support for Kulongoski's plan--namely, Bend-area Senator Ben Westlund. Not only was Westlund the only Republican legislator to vocally support a similar, far-reaching anti-discrimination ordinance in Bend, he is also planning on introducing a bill legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples in Oregon.

In passing Measure 36, Nashif and DOMC counted on support from middle-of-the-road Republicans. But asking constituents and legislators to vote against a tepid civil rights bill, like S.B. 176, may be asking too much--and could alienate many of DOMC's more moderate supporters.

One capitol insider also speculated that some GOP hardliners may in fact vote for Kulongoski's anti-discrimination bill in order to soften the political impact when they shoot down civil unions. The rationale behind such thinking is that S.B. 176 will provide broad and vague rights, while a civil unions bill is a much more definite step forward for gays and lesbians.

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