Gay Rights Bill Passes Oregon House

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Same-sex couples would receive the same benefits as married couples, and gays and lesbians would be protected against discrimination under bills approved Tuesday by the Oregon House.

The Senate is expected to pass the two bills and Gov. Ted Kulongoski plans to sign both.

The first bill would enable same-sex couples to enter into contractual relationships that grant them the same benefits offered to married couples under state law. The bill refers to the relationships as "domestic partnerships."

Oregon would join Vermont, Connecticut, California and New Jersey in offering civil unions or domestic partnerships to same-sex couples. Massachusetts allows gay couples to marry. Hawaii extends certain spousal rights to same-sex couples, along with cohabitating heterosexual pairs. The Washington Legislature last week approved a limited domestic partnership bill that's expected to be signed into law soon.

A national gay rights group called the Oregon vote part of a larger movement by state lawmakers to provide recognition for gay and lesbian couples.

"The country seems to be taking a fresh look at this issue," said Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry.

An opponent of the bill, state Rep. Dennis Richardson, said a fairer approach would be to allow a more limited range of marriage-style benefits to two people who live together.

"This bill is in fact marriage by another name," Richardson said.

The other bill that passed Tuesday would ban discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people in employment, housing and access to public accommodations. If it passes, Oregon would become one of 18 states with laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.