ashland.news
July 18, 2024

Oregon advocates launch campaign to protect abortion, gay marriage, trans care in constitution

A Pride flag, Oregon flag and U.S. flag rest on a desk in the Oregon Capitol. Oregon Capital Chronicle photo by Ron Cooper
June 26, 2024

The proposed amendment is similar to an effort Democratic lawmakers abandoned in 2023 as part of negotiations to end a Republican walkout

By Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle

On the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the national right to abortion, Oregon advocates launched an effort to enshrine abortion rights and protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in the state’s constitution. 

Organizers with LGBTQ+ advocacy organization Basic Rights Oregon, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon and Planned Parenthood Advocates, announced their plans for a 2026 ballot measure in an email to supporters Monday afternoon. 

The measure, a proposed amendment to the state constitution, is just 143 words and is nearly identical to a proposal floated by Democratic lawmakers in 2023. Lawmakers abandoned that attempt to add abortion rights and same-sex marriage to the state constitution during their negotiations to bring back Republican senators who had walked out in protest and blocked the Senate from passing any bills for six weeks.

The Oregon Constitution already prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, while state law and court decisions protect LGBTQ+ Oregonians from discrimination and ensure access to reproductive health care, including abortion and contraception.

But the state constitution still contains a clause specifying that only marriages between one man and one woman can be valid or legally recognized by the state, though that clause has been unenforceable since a federal court ruling in 2014. A 2015 Supreme Court ruling guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage across the nation, but advocates have worried that the more conservative current court might reverse that ruling. 

The proposed constitutional amendment would also clarify that prohibitions from discrimination on the basis of sex extend to discrimination based on pregnancy or its outcomes and related health decisions, gender identity and related health decisions or sexual orientation. In short, it would aim to ensure equal rights for women, transgender people and gay, lesbian and bisexual people. 

Advocates will need to gather 1,000 initial signatures to get the state to draft a ballot title, then collect more than 150,000 additional signatures by summer 2026 to put the amendment on the November 2026 ballot. 

Proposed amendment

Additions are in bold. 

Section 46, Article I of the Constitution of the State of Oregon, is amended to read:

(1) Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex.

(2) “On account of sex” includes laws, policies, and actions that discriminate, in intent or effect, based on:

(a) pregnancy/pregnancy outcomes and related health decisions;

(b) gender identity and related health decisions;

(c) sexual orientation, including the right to marry; or

(d) sex.

(3) Article XV, section 5a is hereby repealed.

(4) The Legislative Assembly shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this section.

(5) Nothing in this section shall diminish a right otherwise available to persons under section 20 of this Article or any other provision of this Constitution.

High hopes

Organizers are bullish about their chances, citing internal poll data that they said showed that 70% of Oregon voters believed abortion should be legal in most or all cases, 80% wanted no government interference in private health care decisions and 80% supported same-sex marriage. They declined to share the results of that poll or more information about who was surveyed. 

Publicly available data shows strong support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage – the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center found in 2022 that 72% of respondents in a demographically representative survey believed abortion should be legal in most or all cases and reported this month that 76% of respondents believed same-sex relationships should be respected. 

The center in 2022 also identified mixed opinions among Oregonians when it came to some transgender rights issues, with just 50% of respondents saying transgender students should use bathrooms or locker rooms that match their current identity and a nearly even split on whether transgender athletes should play on teams that matched their gender identity or their sex at birth. 

In a frequently-asked-questions page, supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment said attacks on women, trans people and people in gay relationships come from a history of discrimination rooted in sex and gender stereotypes. 

“These politicians know that they can destroy all of our rights and freedoms by targeting one group after another,” it said. “By uniting and fighting for our rights together, we’re ensuring a future Oregon where no one is left behind.” 

‘Beyond time’

Organizers declined interview requests but shared two written statements from two chief petitioners. Evelyn Kocher, who described herself as an immigrant transgender woman and a sixth-generation Oregonian, wrote that the vast majority of Oregonians believe everyone should have the freedom to love who they love and make private medical decisions without interference from politicians. 

This ballot measure will embed those strong Oregon values into our state constitution,” Kocher said in the statement. “At a time when extremist politicians are rolling back the clock on LGBTQ+ rights nationally, it’s beyond time to cement Oregon’s place as the safest place in the US to be queer.”

Lane County Commissioner Laurie Trieger said in a statement that it was her responsibility as a mother, grandmother, openly queer woman and local elected leader to serve as a chief petitioner. 

“I’ve been standing up for abortion access and LGBTQ+ rights my entire adult life – and make no mistake, this fight affects us all and it’s far from over,” she said. “I strongly believe that now is the time to make it crystal clear where we stand on marriage equality, abortion, contraception, health care for transgender patients, and the freedom to live our lives without government overreach.” 

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix, Arizona.

Picture of Cameron Aalto

Cameron Aalto

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