If you have lived in Oregon for 20 years, you know that Oregonians have torn their guts out twice over homosexuality. A major figure in the ballot initiative industry named Lon Mabon sought to legalize discrimination against gays. Mabon's first attempt in 1992 lost by a margin of 189,763 votes. Mabon offered a subtler, nuanced initiative in 1994, and it lost by 37,882 votes.
Mabon's campaigns were cloaked in Christianity, but they were basically about legitimizing bigotry. Mabon wasn't the only political actor to discover that while bigotry against blacks, women, Jews and Catholics was officially off limits, gays could be convenient punching bags for political fun and profit. The Bush White House hyped the gay marriage issue in various states to boost right-wing religious voter turn-out in the 2004 election.
It is worth remembering this recent history as we celebrate Gov. Ted Kulongoski's signing of two landmark bills Wednesday. Senate Bill 2 bans discrimination against gays and lesbians in housing and the work place. House Bill 2007 creates a system of domestic partnerships. While it is not marriage, it extends to homosexual partners legal and economic protections.
Legislators who voted for these bills - including Sen. Betsy Johnson, Rep. Brad Witt and Rep. Debby Boone - deserve credit for having the courage to make an historic decision.
It is always dangerous to announce that one era has ended and another has begun. But it does seem as though Oregon has passed through an ugly time and is poised to join what is rapidly becoming mainstream thought. These new laws represent a giant step toward equality for Oregonians.