A bill giving Oregon's gay and lesbian couples the benefits of marriage through domestic partnerships won final legislative approval Wednesday.
The Senate endorsed the measure 21-9, sending it to Gov. Ted Kulongoski. The governor is a gay-rights supporter who says he will sign that bill along with another one passed earlier to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The domestic partnership bill would enable same-sex couples to enter into contractual relationships that grant them the same benefits that state law offers to married couples.
The measure won unanimous endorsement from the Senate's majority Democrats, with two Republicans joining them.
When Kulongoski signs the measure, Oregon will join Vermont, Connecticut, California, New Jersey, Maine and Washington state in offering civil unions or domestic partnerships to same-sex couples.
Massachusetts allows gay couples to marry. The New Hampshire Legislature last week approved a civil unions measure that's expected to be signed into law soon, and Hawaii extends certain spousal rights to same-sex couples, along with cohabiting heterosexual pairs.
'Marriage by another name'
Oregon's domestic partnerships measure covers benefits relating to inheritance rights, child-rearing and custody, joint tax filings, joint health, auto and homeowners insurance policies, visitation rights at hospitals and others.
It does not affect federal benefits for married couples including Social Security and joint filing of federal tax returns.
Opponents have called domestic partnerships "marriage by another name," and said the bill violates the will of voters who endorsed a constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2004.
Backers said the law will provide dignity and protection for thousands of same-sex couples in Oregon who are in committed relationships not currently recognized by the state.
After the vote, about 60 jubilant gay rights supporters gathered in a nearby room, where they toasted their victory with sparkling cider. Some shed tears.
"The fact of the matter is, the state now recognizes us," said Kevin Bailey-Gilliam, who came to the Capitol with his partner, Alex, for Wednesday's vote.