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Opponents press on with challenge

Some Portland gays and lesbians are dispensing with lavish celebrations of their domestic partnerships and the new rights they convey.

Many had their hopes dashed when Oregon voters banned gay marriage in 2004 and the Oregon Supreme Court revoked the same-sex marriages granted that year.

Some couples say they'll wait until November to register domestic partnerships, for fear a proposed ballot initiative might overturn the 2007 domestic partnership law. There's also a pending lawsuit challenging the law.

'There are some serious clouds hanging over what should be a wonderful opportunity,' said Jeana Frazzini, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, the state's leading gay rights group.

State Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, and Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, filed an initiative to overturn the state's 2007 domestic partnership law and nullify the partnerships granted this year.

State Sen. Gary George, R-Newberg, Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, and Salem resident Victor Vityukov filed another initiative to overturn the companion 2007 law barring discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people.

Girod said the domestic partnership law violates Measure 36, the 2004 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

'Basically, this is marriage; it has another title to it,' Girod said. 'I think it is a big issue, and that it needs to be voted on by the general electorate.'

Girod also hopes to boost voter turnout by conservatives in November. 'I think what's real important is that the right wing of the Republican Party has a reason to come vote,' he said.

But it's unclear whether the four GOP lawmakers and their allies have the time, money or organizational horsepower to gather more than 80,000 petition signatures by early July to qualify each initiative.

The state attorney general's proposed ballot titles, or ballot explanatory language, are issued around April 1. Then legal wrangling will delay signature gathering until the Oregon Supreme Court agrees to final ballot titles.

'It usually takes the Supreme Court at least a month, and often longer, to rule on ballot title challenges,' said Dave Fidanque, executive director of the Oregon chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. 'It's not impossible that they get the signatures, but I'd say it's quite improbable.'

Initiative sponsors need 82,769 valid petition signatures by early July. They might have less time than last year's referendums campaign, when some of the same forces failed to gather 55,179 valid signatures in three months, in a bid to force a public vote before the two laws took effect.

The outcome of the signature drive may depend on which groups back the measure, Frazzini said.

The Oregon Family Council, a network of conservative Chris-tian congregations, collected a record 244,000 signatures in five weeks to put Measure 36 on the ballot in 2004. But many social conservatives don't view domestic partnerships the same way they view marriage, said Tim Nashif, who led that campaign for the family council.

Backers of the referendums include former GOP lawmaker Marylin Shannon; David Crowe, the Tennessee-based leader of Restore America; Oregon Constitution Party activists; and Slavic Christians.

Backers will be well-funded and have willing volunteers, Girod said, but they may run out of time.

'If we're too late or we don't get the ballot title that we want, I suppose that we'll have to wait,' he said.

- Steve Law