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Esquivel backs initiative to dump civil unions law

SALEM — State Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, and a GOP state senator from Stayton have filed a proposed initiative that would repeal Oregon's new domestic partnership law for same-sex couples.

Esquivel and Fred Girod filed the petition with the Secretary of State's office Friday. A companion initiative that would roll back civil rights protections for gays and lesbians was submitted Monday.

Esquivel said he elected to become a chief petitioner on the domestic partnership initiative to protest the 2007 Legislature's failure to refer the politically charged issue to the voters.

The Medford real estate salesman opposed the domestic partnership bill as well as the civil rights measure when they hit the House floor.

"I am protesting the process," Esquivel said, but he noted that does not plan to be actively involved in signature gathering efforts for the proposal.

"Whatever the voters decide, I'm fine with it," he said. "That will be the end of it."

Backers must collect signatures from 82,769 registered voters on each initiative by 5 p.m. July 3 to qualify them for the November general election ballot.

The initiatives are the latest roadblock for gay and lesbian activists. Shortly after the 2007 session passed the new laws, a group led by former GOP senator Marylin Shannon sought to refer them to the ballot. They needed 55,179 valid signatures on each, but fell short by narrow margins. A federal court accepted a petition to review the signature verification process before the new laws could take effect. The judge later allowed the law to take effect.

A spokeswoman for Basic Rights Oregon, the major advocacy group for sexual minorities, said that as of February some 1,300 same-sex couples have registered as domestic partners. The new designation provides most, but not all, the state benefits of marriage.

Sponsors of the second initiative, which seeks to repeal SB-2, include Rep. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, Sen. Gary George, R-Newberg, and Victor Vityukov, Salem. That law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace, housing and public accommodations.

Esquivel also will not get involved in that campaign, but he said if asked, he will tell people why he opposed it last year.

"I've met former gays, but I've yet to meet a former black, or a former Hispanic," he said.

Karynn Fish, a spokeswoman for Basic Rights Oregon headquartered in Portland, expressed disappointment at the filings.

"But we expected it," she said. "They told us last year they were coming back with them.

"It's unfortunate. There are a lot of committed (same sex) couples who just want to get on with their lives," she said.

Fish said she was confident Oregon voters would reject the measures if they get a spot on the general election ballot. She said Basic Rights would launch a public education campaign against the repeal effort.

Of the legislators who are sponsors, Fish said "they need to think of all their constituents instead of putting some in harm's way."

Don Jepsen is a freelance writer living in Salem. Reach him at djepsen34@yahoo.com.