Nation Watches Ballot Votes On Gay Rights, Suicide

LIKE voters in many parts of the country, Oregonians are described by professional politics-watchers as ``cranky'' and ``sour.''

``People are unhappy generally, and they're looking for change,'' says Southern Oregon State College political scientist Jacqueline Switzer.

Having the official voters' pamphlet hit their doorsteps this week probably didn't lighten the mood. It's over 200 pages long (bigger than many town phone books, points out Secretary of State Phil Keisling), and much of the bulk comes from the 18 statewide ballot measures they have to wade through.

These range from mandatory sentences for certain felonies to campaign-finance law changes to a ban on bear-baiting and the use of hounds to hunt cougars. Two of the most controversial address issues of national interest that may gather political steam (or at least generate heat) in other states if they pass here.

Measure 16 allows terminally ill adults to obtain a prescription for lethal drugs. The so-called ``Death With Dignity Act'' requires informed consent in the form of three separate requests from the patient, a 15-day waiting period, and the approval of two consulting physicians.

Recent polls show most Oregonians favor the measure. But ``assisted suicide'' efforts in Washington State (1991) and California (1992) enjoyed similar support before being defeated. Most of the active opposition is coming from the Roman Catholic church. Priests around the state recently asked parishioners to contribute to a special fund to fight Measure 16.

Ballot Measure 13 revisits an issue Oregon voters faced two years ago: whether homosexuals should be denied specific protection under state or local law. The ``Minority Status and Child Protection Act,'' as its proponents titled it, forbids equating sexual orientation with race, religion, or gender. It also prohibits the granting of spousal benefits or marital status to homosexuals.

In essence, this is a milder version of a 1992 initiative declaring homosexuality to be ``abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse.'' Following massive bipartisan opposition (including considerable financial support from out of state) that measure was defeated. Still, 43 percent of Oregon voters approved it. And since then some two dozen mostly rural communities in Oregon have passed local initiatives similar to Measure 13.

Even if this version is approved, however, it faces a questionable legal future. A similar law passed in Colorado two years ago has been declared unconstitutional by the state supreme court.

Both major gubernatorial candidates oppose these two measures. Republican Denny Smith at first was reluctant to reveal his position, however, and he still says homosexuals have ``no need for special rights.''

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