Judges ruling is disturbing
Under our federal system, Oregon is a sovereign state. Oregonians have the right to decide the law within the state's borders through their elected representatives or directly by ballot measure.
Last year Oregon enacted a domestic partnership law. The law was designed to provide same-sex couples, who are ineligible to marry, with the same rights and responsibilities that married couples have.
As one of only a few lawyers serving in the Oregon Legislature, I worked on the details of the domestic partnership law. I was guided by the oath I swore when I took office to uphold the Oregon Constitution, including Article I, Section 20, which guarantees equal privileges and immunities to all citizens.
After the legislative session, opponents gathered signatures to refer the domestic partnership law to voters. In October, Oregon's Secretary of State determined that the referendum petitions contained too few valid signatures. The law was set to take effect Jan. 1. But on Dec. 20, the Alliance Defense Fund, an out-of-state fundamentalist religious organization, went into federal court. ADF challenged the Secretary of State's determination that the referendum attempt had fallen short.
Under Oregon elections law, petition signatures are tested for validity by random sampling. The percentage of invalid signatures in the sample is then applied to all the petitions submitted. ADF claims this sampling process violates a right to have each signature counted unless it is individually found to be invalid and the petitioner is given an opportunity to correct the flaw. They assert that, under the United States Constitution, a petition signature must be treated like a vote in an election.
If ADF's position prevails, Oregon's initiative and referendum process will become extremely complex and expensive. Most petitions now are carried by paid signature gatherers who offer them to any passer-by. Substantial proportions of those who sign are not registered voters or have signed the petition more than once. Sometimes paid signature gatherers commit fraud.
If the Secretary of State must consider each signature individually, without random sampling, it will become much harder to protect the Oregon ballot from proposals that haven't properly qualified.
One of the duties of Oregon's Attorney General is to defend the laws of Oregon from court challenges. Over recent years, Oregon has faced repeated attempts by the federal government to thwart the choices made by our citizens and their elected representatives in such matters as the Oregon Health Plan and our Death with Dignity law.
Fortunately, Oregon's Department of Justice is vigorously defending Oregon against the ADF challenge. The outcome of this case will have a crucial impact on our initiative and referendum system.
On Dec. 28, the federal judge granted a temporary restraining order blocking Oregon's domestic partnership law until a Feb. 1 hearing. The judge will then consider the ADF's request to keep the law from taking effect until a vote on the referendum in the November general election.
The judge's Dec. 28 ruling is disturbing because it concluded that ADF and its local allies would suffer 'irreparable harm' if the domestic partnership law took effect. Even if a vote is required, it's difficult to see how anyone would suffer harm if the law took effect in the meantime. We must hope that a better reasoned view prevails at the hearing on Feb. 1.
Rep. Greg Macpherson, Lake Oswego, represents Oregon House District 38. He has announced his candidacy to run for Oregon Attorney General.