Bruce McCain: Oregon Republicans Change Platform on Gays. Will Social Conservatives Leave?

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Bruce McCain, WWeek

** during the editing process a portion of Bruce’s piece was left out. I’m sorry. Ed.**

On September 9-10 the Oregon Republican Party convened at Bend’s Riverhouse Hotel and Convention Center to consider amendments to the state party platform. As with any party convention, emotions and tempers ran hot before, during and after the final gavel came down. Local headlines, blogs and media reports have focused on the delegation amending its Family section of the platform. Depending upon who is asked, these changes either a) brought the ORP into a place of statewide competitiveness or b) sounded the death knell for Oregon conservatives west of Harney County.

Critics of the platform changes fear the ORP has so watered down its family values that the party no longer represents those who proudly wear their social conservative credentials on their star spangled sleeves. Threats and fear of losing registered Republicans have flooded Facebook and similar blog commentary logs. Evangelicals, some of whom weren’t even at the

convention, nonetheless have joined the chorus of critics, vowing before God and country to never compromise their faith just to lure moderate or independent voters into the ideologically shrinking GOP tent. So what does the 2011 ORP platform actually say about family? The section summary says:
The Oregon Republican Party believes that the traditional family is ordained by God our Creator and is the foundation of our society. A traditional family is formed through the marriage of one man and one woman. This environment is the optimum for raising children into responsible, self-sufficient, productive citizens.

If the ORP loses members because this language is too liberal, then those voters probably belonged in the Constitution Party to begin with. But notwithstanding this clear, unambiguous statement in support of marriage as being a) ordained by God; b) the foundation of our society; and c) formed through the marriage of one man and one woman, there remains a vocal and passionate group of Republicans who feel the ORP platform is on its way to being indistinguishable from the Democratic platform. So what’s the fuss all about?
Within the Family section is plank 6.3, which contained the following two sentences the majority of delegates voted to remove:

We do not consider “same sex marriage” to be “marriage” nor “civil unions” to have any equivalency nor right to legal standing. Nor do we believe “same sex marriage” or “civil unions” worthy of legal standing for adoption or parenting purposes.

The problems with these two sentences are many and serious. Each is poorly written, creating potentially unwanted effects contrary to the apparent intent of their authors. Both sentences use the terms “same sex marriage” and “civil unions” even though Oregon does not recognize either. 

Measure 36 provided a constitutional prohibition to same sex marriage, rendering that term moot. The term “civil union” likewise is undefined, though it appears the original authors may have been referring to domestic partnerships, which have been lawful in Oregon since January 2008 and even longer in some local jurisdictions.
Thanks to large Democratic majorities in both chambers, the 2007 legislature passed HB 2007, The Oregon Family Fairness Act, which created same sex domestic partnerships with many of the same rights and privileges afforded to married couples, while specifically recognizing the constitutional prohibitions against same sex marriage provided by Measure 36 four years earlier. Contrary to the former ORP platform language, domestic partnerships or “civil unions” in Oregon do have legal standing as valid enforceable contracts. 

Oregonians who have entered into a valid domestic partnership agreement are granted the same privileges, immunities, rights, benefits, duties and responsibilities as married persons. To say otherwise in a party platform is inaccurate at best and fanciful wishful thinking at worse. But then again, there were delegates at the 2011 convention who wanted to keep the 2006 platform summary even though it still contained references to supporting “President George W. Bush in his effort to fight terrorism.”

The second deleted sentence for plank 6.3 deserved its fate for much of the same reasons as its predecessor. While again using the terms “same sex marriage” and “civil union” this clause declares that any Oregonian who enters into a “civil union” or domestic partnership agreement has no “legal standing … for parenting purposes.” The authors seemed to have been concerned about same sex couples or gay individuals adopting children. If so, that is a legitimate issue for the legislature to consider since adoption is regulated by statute. But the clumsy language of this clause included the undefined term “parenting purposes,” and therein lays the problem.
The net effect of these two horribly written sentences is that the Oregon Republican Party believed that if you are a gay or lesbian Oregonian who enters into a domestic partnership agreement your agreement has no legal effect and you have “no legal standing for parenting purposes.” Amazingly, some delegates and commentators continue to ask, “What’s anti-gay about that?” Fortunately, the majority of ORP delegates voted to overturn the Family caucus and jettison this language once and for all.
As a result, some passionate self-described conservatives mistakenly believe the Oregon Republican Party has suddenly become a champion for same-sex marriage, homosexual adoption and the corporate domestic partner of Basic Rights Oregon. But as anyone can see from the finished platform, the ORP has written a solidly conservative statement on marriage, the traditional family and its role in developing “responsible, self-sufficient, productive citizens.”  At the same time, the Oregon Republican Party no longer says to gay Oregonians that their contracts are void solely because of their sexual orientation. Nor will the ORP tell an unmarried gay man who is the biological parent of a teenager that he has “no legal standing for parenting purposes” if he chooses to enter into a lawful domestic partnership agreement in lieu of marriage.
Some will call the ORP’s action an attempt to pander to moderate and independent voters. Hopefully, for the majority of ORP delegates who approved these changes, they did it because it was the right thing to do.
The 2011 Oregon Republican Party platform can be read here:  

Bruce McCain is a former Multnomah County Sheriff’s Captain, an attorney in privte practice, an elected member of the Reynolds School Board and a proud Multnomah County Republican.

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