Threat to gay rights in Oregon

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LOS ANGELES - The attention of the world may be trained on the outcome of the presidential race but there are many here who are equally concerned about what is happening several thousand miles away from Washington's corridors of power, writes Phil Reeves.

They are wondering how voters in the sparsely populated western state of Oregon will respond to the strongest challenge made to gay rights in the United States in recent history - a proposed law which would declare homosexuality 'abnormal, wrong, unnatural, and perverse'.

Oregon's electorate will decide by ballot whether to amend the state constitution to require state government departments and schools to discourage homosexuality and forbid them from recognising gays as a distinct group. Opponents are comparing the proposal, introduced by a coalition of right-wing Christian fundamentalist groups, with anti- black measures in some Southern states after the Supreme Court's desegregation rulings during the 1950s.

The polls suggest that the proposal - known as Measure 9 - will be resoundingly defeated, a trend reinforced by the latest survey by a Portland television station, which showed the public as 60-34 against. It is opposed by almost every area of the Oregon establishment, including virtually all its elected politicians, professional associations and unions. Despite this, opponents of Measure 9 say they are by no means assured of victory.

Experience is on the side of the opposition. Earlier this year similar leads in the polls for the 'vote no' camp evaporated when Springfield, a south-west Oregon logging town, voted for a city charter amendment forbidding special treatment for homosexuals.