Oregon Repeals Ban on Antigay Job Discrimination Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Oregon voters repealed a 1987 executive order by Governor Neil Goldschmidt that had banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The measure’s success paved the way for antigay initiatives around the United States in the early 1990’s, but it also mobilized a new nationwide movement for lesbian and gay civil rights.

Summary of Event

In 1987, gay and lesbian activists in Oregon followed the lead of activists in other states and lobbied Democratic governor Neil Goldschmidt to sign Executive Order 87-20, which banned employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the state executive branch. Many have suggested that Goldschmidt supported the GLBT community because GLBT activists had played a significant role in his election. The GLBT groups, such as the informal Portland Town Council, that mobilized in the state, were centered mostly in a few cities. The cities of Portland and Eugene had passed analogous civil rights measures earlier, and similar bills had been introduced in the state legislature since 1973, but Eugene’s law had been repealed by ballot initiative in May, 1978. [kw]Oregon Repeals Ban on Antigay Job Discrimination (Nov. 8, 1988) [kw]Ban on Antigay Job Discrimination, Oregon Repeals (Nov. 8, 1988) [kw]Antigay Job Discrimination, Oregon Repeals Ban on (Nov. 8, 1988) [kw]Job Discrimination, Oregon Repeals Ban on Antigay (Nov. 8, 1988) [kw]Discrimination, Oregon Repeals Ban on Antigay Job (Nov. 8, 1988) Discrimination;and Christian Right[Christian Right] Oregon;and antigay politics[antigay politics] Civil rights;and antigay movement[antigay movement] Antigay movement Measure 8, Oregon[Measure 08] [c]Civil rights;Nov. 8, 1988: Oregon Repeals Ban on Antigay Job Discrimination[1870] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Nov. 8, 1988: Oregon Repeals Ban on Antigay Job Discrimination[1870] Goldschmidt, Neil Kaufman, Liz Mabon, Lon T.

Lon T. Mabon and other conservative activists Political activism;conservatives and saw the governor’s executive order as a clear sign that gay activists were helping to bring about moral decline in America. Mabon, who had been part of a Christian Christian Right;and Oregon Citizens Alliance[Oregon Citizens Alliance] Christian Right movement to change abortion laws and build a national grassroots campaign for “family values,” "Family values"[family values];Oregon formed a group in Oregon called the Oregon Citizens Alliance Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA). Mabon had seen the movement fail on some pro-life ballot initiatives and was convinced that gay issues could galvanize Christian conservatives in the state and around the country.

Through the OCA, Mabon announced in 1988 that he would collect signatures for a ballot initiative to repeal Goldschmidt’s executive order. The OCA was able to collect more than 118,000 signatures in nine weeks, ensuring that the proposal would reach the ballot. The proposal was certified as Measure 8.

GLBT activists seemed almost unconcerned, and their public comments suggested they were confident they could control the elements of the debate and defeat the measure in November. A group called Oregonians for Fairness Oregonians for Fairness (OFF) was formed, with Liz Kaufman managing the campaign against the measure. OFF was able to raise $375,000, obtain endorsements from political elites, and produce professional ads that described the measure as a “witch hunt” without using terms such as gay or lesbian. Public opinion polls suggested that the measure would be defeated, and some writers have suggested that the OFF campaign became complacent. In fact, the group simply followed the traditional campaign model, beginning most of their activity after Labor Day, in early September. Leaders of OFF have also suggested that no one believed the OCA could collect enough signatures, and once they did, GLBT activists had only twelve weeks to respond.

Meanwhile, the OCA had formed a campaign group called the No Special Rights Committee. No Special Rights Committee This marked the first time that the phrase “special rights” "Special rights"[special rights] had been used in anti-GLBT campaigns; it would come into wide use by the early 1990’s. The name of the group was effective because it implied that gays and lesbians had obtained rights above and beyond those of other citizens through the governor’s executive order, and every media report about Measure 8 would inadvertently project its supporters’ message simply by stating the committee’s name. This technique ensured that the OCA shaped how the issue was presented to the public, which is a key element of any ballot initiative fight.

On November 8, 1988, Measure 8 passed 53 percent (626,751) to 47 percent (561,355). The vote stunned GLBT activists and set the stage for dozens of local anti-GLBT initiatives in Oregon and several statewide initiatives outside Oregon in the 1990’s.


On November 12, 1992, the Oregon Court of Appeals struck down Measure 8 as unconstitutional, but by this time, the benefits and damages to the GLBT movement had taken effect. In terms of benefits, the passage of Measure 8 taught GLBT activists in Oregon and elsewhere three lessons. First, activists needed to start campaigns early and not become complacent, regardless of what public-opinion polls indicate; it became clear that poll respondents can harbor biases that they do not want to reveal to poll takers. Second, a base of support must be built both within and beyond the GLBT community; the movement should present a united front, but the clear public support of political elites is also needed. Third—and this point is much debated—although a campaign should focus on broad themes, such as the right to privacy and basic human rights, avoiding the use of terms such as “gay,” “lesbian,” or “homosexual” may confuse the public and alienate the GLBT community.

The GLBT movement in Oregon also benefited from the measure because the campaign helped lead to the formation of new GLBT groups. For example, AFTER 8 was formed by women who wanted to mobilize the GLBT community in the months following the measure’s passage, and the group eventually was active in all parts of the state. An even larger group, Right to Privacy (RTP), formed in the wake of the election defeat. RTP was the first permanent statewide group in Oregon, and it would soon face the Oregon Citizens Alliance again at the ballot box. Indeed, the success of the OCA is credited for generating additional anti-GLBT initiatives throughout Oregon at the local level, at the state level, and in states such as Idaho and Colorado. Although Colorado’s Amendment 2 Amendment 2, Colorado[Amendment 02] —which prohibited any governmental body from adopting any ordinance offering claims of “any minority status, quota preferences, protected status or claim of discrimination” to gay, lesbian, or bisexual Coloradans—became nationally known, in part because it passed and none of the other statewide initiatives did, the real battle following the 1988 vote took place within Oregon.

GLBT activists struck back in Oregon by convincing Portland to expand its sexual orientation antidiscrimination law and encouraging the Oregon senate to pass a gay civil rights law in 1991. The OCA battled back by passing several local anti-GLBT initiatives in 1991 and 1992 and placing a new initiative (Measure 9) on the state ballot in 1992 that would have prevented any government in the state from adopting laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Measure 9 failed after GLBT groups raised $2.1 million to defeat it, but the OCA was successful in passing more than twenty-four local initiatives in 1993 and 1994. The state legislature supported the OCA’s efforts, and in 1994 the OCA introduced another anti-GLBT initiative, Measure 13.

By 1994, however, GLBT activists were running a very polished and professional $1.8 million campaign against the OCA’s efforts and easily defeated Measure 13. High-profile political elites and religious leaders in the state opposed both Measures 9 and 13, even though the OCA dominated the state’s Republican Party in the early 1990’s. Meanwhile, many GLBT activists rallied around a new GLBT group, Basic Rights Oregon Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), following the defeat of Measure 9. BRO has effectively blocked anti-GLBT initiatives in the state since 1994. Discrimination;and Christian Right[Christian Right] Oregon;and antigay politics[antigay politics] Civil rights;and antigay movement[antigay movement] Antigay movement

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bernstein, Mary. “Celebration and Suppression: The Strategic Uses of Identity by the Lesbian and Gay Movement.” American Journal of Sociology 103, no. 3 (1997): 531-565.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bull, Chris, and John Gallagher. Perfect Enemies: The Religious Right, the Gay Movement, and the Politics of the 1990’s. New York: Crown, 1996.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gay Writers Group. It Could Happen to You: An Account of the Gay Civil Rights Campaign in Eugene, Oregon. Boston: Alyson, 1983.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gregg, Ronald. “Queer Representation and Oregon’s 1992 Anti-Gay Ballot Measure: Measuring the Politics of Mainstreaming.” In Between the Sheets, in the Streets: Queer, Lesbian, Gay Documentary, edited by Chris Holmlund and Cynthia Fuchs. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Haider-Markel, Donald P., and Kenneth J. Meier. “Legislative Victory, Electoral Uncertainty: Explaining Outcomes in the Battles over Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights.” Review of Policy Research 20, no. 4 (2003): 671-690.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rimmerman, Craig A. From Identity to Politics: The Lesbian and Gay Movements in the United States. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stein, Arlene. The Stranger Next Door: The Story of a Small Community’s Battle over Sex, Faith, and Civil Rights. Boston: Beacon Press, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thompson, Mark, ed. The Long Road to Freedom. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Witt, Stephanie L., and Suzanne McCorkle, eds. Anti-Gay Rights Initiatives: Assessing Voter Initiatives. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.

1972-1973: Local Governments Pass Antidiscrimination Laws

March 5, 1974: Antigay and Antilesbian Organizations Begin to Form

June 27, 1974: Abzug and Koch Attempt to Amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964

July 3, 1975: U.S. Civil Service Commission Prohibits Discrimination Against Federal Employees

1977: Anita Bryant Campaigns Against Gay and Lesbian Rights

1978: Lesbian and Gay Workplace Movement Is Founded

November 7, 1978: Antigay and Antilesbian Briggs Initiative Is Defeated

November 27, 1978: White Murders Politicians Moscone and Milk

1979: Moral Majority Is Founded

November, 1986: Californians Reject LaRouche’s Quarantine Initiative

November 3, 1992: Oregon and Colorado Attempt Antigay Initiatives

March-April, 1993: Battelle Sex Study Prompts Conservative Backlash

1994: Employment Non-Discrimination Act Is Proposed to U.S. Congress

December 4, 1995: Lesbian Couple Murdered in Oregon

March 21, 2003: New Mexico Amends Its Human Rights Act

June 26, 2003: U.S. Supreme Court Overturns Texas Sodomy Law

Categories: History