Oregon to vote on plan to allow bias against gays Conservative group forces a referendum

August 16, 1992|By New York Times News Service

WILSONVILLE, Ore. -- Using videos from gay pride marches and a children's book called "Heather Has Two Mommies" to stir the electorate, a conservative political group has forced a referendum on the strongest anti-homosexual measure ever considered by a state.

The proposal, which would classify homosexuality as "abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse" and allow discrimination against homosexuals in Oregon, is part of a burgeoning backlash in the West against homosexuals and a theme that has flared, in a less defined way, in the presidential campaign.

In November, voters in Oregon and Colorado will decide on citizen-initiated measures that would remove legal protection for homosexuals. But Oregon's initiative is far more extreme. It would require the state government to actively discourage homosexuality, teaching that it is a moral offense similar to pedophilia, sadism and masochism.

Questions of whether homosexuals can serve in the military, in the Cabinet and as foster parents have become part of the national debate in recent years. The issue has been a subtext in Vice President Dan Quayle's comments on the campaign trail on family values.

But in Oregon, the issue is much more overt.

"This is what we're fighting against," said Lon Mabon, waving a copy of a book called "Daddy's Roommate," which is intended to describe gay relationships to children. Mr. Mabon is the director of the conservative group sponsoring the initiative, the Oregon Citizens Alliance.

"Cultural diversity is the buzzword being used to make homosexuals full-fledged minorities that require civil rights protection," he said. "Homosexuality is not a civil right, but an aberration."

Some legal scholars in the state say the measure could be used to remove homosexuals from teaching positions and state jobs, and as a basis to take books from libraries and deny parade permits and liquor licenses.

If the measure passes -- and political observers give it a strong chance, based on previous support in the state for anti-gay measures -- it could do to Oregon what David Duke did to Louisiana during his run for governor last year.

Some business and convention groups outside the state have talked of boycotting Oregon.

Although Oregon has long been considered a bastion of tolerance and innovative social policy, its voters have also come out against gay rights in several recent elections. Poll takers say that there is little sympathy among the general electorate for homosexuals if they can be portrayed, as the Oregon conservatives have successfully done, as demanding special rights.

"Most of society is willing to tolerate a subculture built around a homosexual life style," Mr. Mabon said. "What we want to do is establish a barrier. The state must ultimately say that homosexuality is wrong."

One video Mr. Mabon's group has used to this end, an edited tape from a 1991 gay march in San Francisco and a 1987 rally in Washington, shows men and women in outlandish costumes simulating sex acts. Banners from the "Bay Area Sadomasochists," and "The North American Man/Boy Love Association," are prominently displayed.

The campaign was used successfully by Mr. Mabon's group in May, when the Oregon town of Springfield voted, by 55 percent to 45 percent, to become the nation's first municipality to include anti-gay language in its city charter.

The act bars Springfield from protecting homosexuals and says the town may not "promote, encourage or facilitate" homosexuality, sadism, masochism or pedophilia.

Passage of the Springfield measure has led to more brazen harassment of homosexuals, some homosexuals in the city said.

"I was walking out of a supermarket the other day when a man came up to me and spat in my face and called me a queer," said Jean Marchant, a lesbian who lives in Springfield and is chairwoman of that town's human rights commission.

"I no longer feel entirely safe or welcome here," Ms. Marchant said. "It seems that it is now acceptable to call someone a faggot and spit on them. That's not the Oregon I grew up knowing."

In designing the statewide anti-gay proposal, called Ballot Measure 9, Mr. Mabon went one step further than he did in Springfield, adding the provision that "all levels of government" must work to teach that homosexuality is wrong. His group gathered 115,629 voter signatures to qualify for the Nov. 3 ballot.

The question voters will read at the polls is: "Shall constitution be amended to require that all governments discourage homosexuality, other listed 'behaviors,' and not facilitate or recognize them?"

The proposed amendment lists the other "behaviors" as pedophilia, sadism or masochism.

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