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Advocates push Oregon constitutional amendment to protect same-sex marriage, gender-affirming care and abortion access

FILE: Salami McConneha of Camas, Wash., uses her body to convey her stance on abortion rights. McConneha was one of hundreds of people who gathered in downtown Portland to protest a leaked draft opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court indicating it would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, Tuesday, May 3, 2022.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff
/
OPB
FILE: Salami McConneha of Camas, Wash., uses her body to convey her stance on abortion rights. McConneha was one of hundreds of people who gathered in downtown Portland to protest a leaked draft opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court indicating it would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, Tuesday, May 3, 2022.

If advocates collect enough signatures, Oregonians would consider the change in 2026.

Oregon voters could have a chance to enshrine the right to an abortion, same-sex marriage and gender-affirming care into the state’s constitution.

Several advocacy groups have joined efforts to gather signatures to put a measure on the 2026 ballot.

“Given the national landscape right now, we can’t take any rights for granted,” said Blair Stenvick, with Basic Rights Oregon. “We know these are Oregon values, and we think now is the time to clarify and make it really clear we believe in bodily autonomy, the freedom to let people be who they are and love who they love and get the care they need from their doctors.”

The measure would repeal the current language in the state constitution that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. Voters adopted the ban on same-sex marriages in 2004. In 2014, a federal judge ruled that policy unconstitutional. The ruling was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015. But proponents say a constitutional amendment would ensure a guarantee of rights and clarity that have been called into question by the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The groups pushing the constitutional amendment include Planned Parenthood, ACLU Oregon and Basic Rights Oregon. The advocates noted they intentionally announced this latest effort on the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, allowing states across the country to impose their own restrictions on accessing an abortion.

The advocates said abortion access, gender-affirming care and marriage equality are all under attack and therefore it makes sense to clarify that all three are considered civil rights in Oregon and should be protected in the state’s constitution.

Oregon already has some of the nation’s strongest protections for abortion access and the rights of LGBTQ+ people. State laws prohibit housing and employment discrimination against gay and transgender people and require state Medicaid to cover abortions and gender-affirming care. In 2017, Oregon lawmakers codified the right to access an abortion into state law. People are also able to access an abortion with no gestational limit.

Republican opposition led to walkout

When Democratic lawmakers pushed for a similar proposal during the 2023 legislative session,the effort became tied to the longest legislative walkout in the state’s history by conservative lawmakers.

Many Republican lawmakers voiced concerns about how a constitutional amendment would impact the rights of minors and parental consent. Basically, they were worried it would block parents from having a say in the treatment of minors who might try to access gender-affirming care or from accessing abortion services. The proposed constitutional amendment does not explicitly mention minors or any issue of parental consent.

“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,’ Lane County Commissioner Laurie Trieger, one of the chief petitioners, said in a statement. “As a mother, grandmother, openly queer woman, and a local elected leader, it’s my honor and responsibility to be a chief petitioner for this historic campaign. I’m doing this for the sake of my daughter, my grandsons, and for all Oregonians.”

Copyright 2024 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Lauren Dake is a JPR content partner from Oregon Public Broadcasting. Before OPB, Lauren spent nearly a decade working as a print reporter. She’s covered politics and rural issues in Oregon and Washington.