Monday, January 7, 2008

The More Things Change . . .

The first day of a new year brings change. Whether in the form of New Year's resolutions to quitsmokingloseweightgetorganized or in the form of new laws slated to go into effect that day, Jan. 1 is the date of change.

Except when it isn't.

Last year Oregon's legislature passed a domestic partnership law, due to take effect on Jan. 1. But that day came and went without a single gay couple registering as domesticated.

You see, a federal judge had placed the law on hold, pending a February hearing. He did that to the poor little law because of the squawking of gay rights opponents.

In 2007 opponents collected signatures to suspend the domestic partnership law and put it up for a statewide vote. Oregon officials declared the valid signatures fell just short of the required number. That prompted the opponents to ask the judge to intercede, claiming the state's review process violated the signers' rights.

These folks are, of course, supremely unconcerned that the rights of gays have been violated longer than Oregon has been a state.

On the plus side, Jan. 1 did usher in Oregon's law forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation. Altogether, the first day of 2008 in the Beaver State reflected the unavoidable reality of our march toward equality: The march route includes speed bumps, U-turns and sinkholes.

On the other coast at the same time—all right, three hours earlier—another new law was truly, really going into effect. At 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1, 37 gay and lesbian New Hampshire couples entered into civil unions. Held outdoors on the plaza of the New Hampshire Statehouse, the celebration began at 11:00 p.m.

Which means that by the time they were actually united, the brides and grooms must've looked stunning in matching icicles.

The state's new law is, by current national standards, expansive. It effectively gives same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as marriage, without the name. The domestic partner law in Oregon affords only some spousal rights, yet conservative Oregonians, with their last-ditch legal effort, are fighting as though Vikings have landed on Cannon Beach.

New Hampshire's new law isn't 100 percent safe, either. Part of the law says the state will recognize other states' legal gay and lesbian unions. A clutch of Republicans in the legislature aims to erase that nicety.

No local protesters littered the Statehouse in Concord when the dozens of couples exchanged vows. The Associated Press talked to one concerned man, Michael Hein, who said he'd driven 180 miles from Augusta, Maine, in order to "report to the people of Maine that this is going on next door."

I hope he at least wore a festive New Year's hat as he glowered.

"Without our vigilance in Maine, (civil unions are) something that could occur as soon as next year," he said. If they do, Hein might be protesting civil unions in Augusta, Maine's capital, at the same time next year. How pleasant to have a New Year's tradition.

I wonder if Hein knew of the notable event taking place in Augusta the very next day, Jan. 2. The Gay Men's Chorus sang the national anthem to kick off the 2008 session of the Maine legislature. It was said to be the first time a gay chorus has sung the anthem at the start of any state legislative session. Hein, presumably, was something less than proud.

So Jan. 2 joined Jan. 1 as a day of change. That's good for Jan. 2's ego—it must be hard to be the date when so many New Year's resolutions collapse.