Ben Botkin

(Oregon Capital Chronicle) Legislative Democrats want Oregon voters to amend the state constitution so equal rights protections include sexual orientation, gender identity or health decisions related to pregnancy.

Senate Joint Resolution 33, introduced Wednesday in the Senate, would go to voters in the 2024 election if the Legislature passes it. The goal of the measure is to preserve and protect existing rights of Oregonians to make decisions about their marriages, families and health care and access reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion, supporters said in a statement and during a news conference Wednesday.

The amendment also would clarify that Oregonians, regardless of gender, gender identity and sexual orientation, are protected against discrimination in housing, employment and state services.

Supporters said Wednesday that the amendment is necessary after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year that overturned Roe v. Wade and repealed the  national right to an abortion.

“As the only LGBTQ member in the Senate, this bill is personal,” Senate Majority Leader Kate Lieber, D-Beaverton and the first openly lesbian Oregon senator, said in a statement. “I know how it feels to live somewhere that doesn’t accept you for who you are. From bans on abortion to bans on medical care for transgender people, hate is on the rise across the country, and this is Oregon’s opportunity to respond with hope.”

The measure would not change existing laws in Oregon that ensure reproductive health access and marriage equality. But a constitutional amendment would safeguard against any future state laws that would undermine those rights.

“This will add an extra layer of protection to Oregonians’ rights and ensure that the future state government can’t take them away without a fight,” said Todd Addams, interim executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, an advocacy group for all sexual and gender identities.

Addams was joined at the press conference with other groups supporting the constitutional measure, including Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.

Sandy Chung, executive director at the ACLU of Oregon, said the proposed amendment would give Oregonians a voice.

We have experienced relentless attacks against abortion and reproductive health rights, transgender rights and marriage equality across our country,” Chung said. “We’ve seen these attacks in Oregon, too. A powerful way to defend these fundamental rights and freedoms is to enshrine them in clear language in the Oregon constitution.”

As other states pass legislation undermining rights, advocates say Oregon should preserve them to dispel fears.

“As a transgender gay man, I share those fears myself,” Addams said.
“My family’s from West Virginia, and watching that state pass anti-trans bills this year, makes me hesitant to even go home to visit. I don’t know what I’d do if the state that I now call home passed legislation attacking my rights to even exist safely.”

West Virginia lawmakers recently passed a bill that would prevent transgender youth under 18 from being prescribed hormone therapy and other gender-affirming care, the Associated Press reported.

In Oregon, advocates watch those developments with concern.

“We’re committed to do whatever it takes to stop the coordinated attacks on our fundamental right to marry who we love and access a full range of health care including contraception, abortion and gender-affirming care,” said Jennifer Williamson, interim executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon. “We refuse to take our freedoms for granted. We’re here to fight back.”

To move forward, the proposal needs to be assigned to a committee and receive a hearing, which isn’t yet scheduled.