LGBT rights in Oregon

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Map of USA OR.svg
StatusLegal since 1972
(Legislative repeal)
Gender identityTransgender people allowed to change gender, surgery not required
Discrimination protectionsYes, both sexual orientation and gender identity
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsSame-sex marriages since 2014 and domestic partnerships since 2008.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in the U.S. state of Oregon have the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexuals. Same-sex sexual activity is legal in Oregon. Same-sex marriage has been legal in the state since May 2014, when a federal judge declared the state's ban on such marriages unconstitutional. Previously, same-sex couples could only access domestic partnerships, which guaranteed most of the rights of marriage. Additionally, same-sex couples are allowed to jointly adopt. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations is outlawed in the state under the Oregon Equality Act, enacted in 2008. Conversion therapy on minors is also illegal.

Oregon is frequently referred to as one of the United States' most LGBT-friendly states,[1] and is home to an active LGBT community. Governor Kate Brown is the nation's first openly bisexual governor. A large majority of Oregonians support same-sex marriage.[2]


During European settlement of Oregon in the late 18th and early 19th century, the region was infamous for its "temptation towards immorality", mostly due to its overwhelmingly male population.[3] Among the Native Americans, perceptions towards gender and sexuality were very different to that of the Western world. The Northern Paiute people, for instance, recognize male-bodied individuals who act, behave and live as women, known as tüdayapi. Similarly, among the Modoc and the Klamath peoples, t'winiːq individuals form a "third gender" alongside male and female.

Oregon, then known as the Oregon Territory, adopted its first criminal code in 1850. It made no mention of sodomy or common law crimes. This changed in 1853, when the Oregon Territorial Legislature passed laws criminalizing sodomy with one to five years' imprisonment. This was later extended to one to fifteen years' imprisonment, after the so-called Portland vice scandal. In 1913, the Oregon Supreme Court, in State v. Start, held that fellatio (oral sex), whether heterosexual or homosexual, also constituted an offence, and similarly in 1928 that mutual masturbation was also criminal. In addition to imprisonment, sterilization became a possible penalty for sodomy in 1913, though this was later repealed by voters by a 56% majority. Nonetheless, a similar law was passed in 1917, but was declared unconstitutional in 1921. Up until then, 127 sterilizations had been carried out in the state, many on "flagrant masturbators or sex perverts". Oregon accounted for about 92% of the total castrations performed in the United States between 1907 and 1921. The state enacted another sterilization law in 1923, providing for the castration or oophorectomy of "[...] moral degenerates and sexual perverts". By 1960, 2,293 people had been sterilized under this law, most of them women. The law was amended in 1965, and was made applicable only to the "mentally ill and the mentally retarded". Cunnilingus was found to be a violation of the sodomy law in 1961, in the case of State v. Black.[3]

In 1953, Oregon passed a psychopathic offender law, under which those convicted of sodomy could receive a life sentence. This was amended ten years later to apply only to sexual activity with children under the age of 12.[3]

Law regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Oregon decriminalized same-sex sexual activity in 1972.[3]

Renewed debate surrounding the state's sodomy law began in the 1970s. The Criminal Law Revision Commission was of the opinion that "any sexual conduct engaged in between consenting adults, whether of a heterosexual or homosexual nature" should not be outlawed. This received notably little opposition, with reportedly only one person testifying against it. In 1971, the Oregon Legislative Assembly repealed the consensual sodomy law and established an age of consent of 18, effective in 1972. At the same time, it also passed a controversial "lewd solicitation" provision, making it a criminal offence to invite a person in a public place to have sexual intercourse. This provision was declared unconstitutional by the Oregon Supreme Court on free speech grounds in a unanimous decision in 1981.[3]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Same-sex marriage was legalized in Oregon on May 19, 2014 after U.S. District Court Judge Michael McShane ruled that the state's 2004 constitutional amendment banning such marriages was unconstitutional in relation to the Equal Protection Clause of the Federal Constitution.[4] Prior to that ruling, same-sex marriage was prohibited by the State Constitution due to the passage of a ballot measure on November 2, 2004.[5] Proponents had formed a campaign to place a same-sex marriage initiative on the ballot in November 2014,[6] but those plans were cancelled because of the May 2014 ruling legalizing marriage for same-sex couples in the state.

Domestic partnerships for same-sex couples have been available since February 4, 2008, when the Oregon Family Fairness Act took effect.[7]

Oregon has provided benefits to same-sex partners of state employees since 1998.[8]

Since October 16, 2013, based on an opinion from the Oregon Department of Justice, Oregon has recognized same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.[9]

In July 2015, the Oregon Legislative Assembly passed a bill to codify gender-neutral marriage in various Oregon statutes, effective from January 1, 2016.[10][11]

Adoption and parenting[edit]

Same-sex couples may apply to adopt. In addition, lesbian couples also have access to assisted reproduction services, such as in vitro fertilization. State law recognizes the non-genetic, non-gestational mother as a legal parent to a child born via donor insemination, but only if the parents are married.[12] Surrogacy for male couples is also allowed.

Discrimination protections[edit]

Portland Pride parade 2015
Portland Pride parade 2017

Since January 1, 2008, Oregon has banned discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.[13] The protections were added by the Oregon Equality Act, signed into law by Governor Ted Kulongoski on May 9, 2007.[14]

Moreover, the state's anti-bullying law prohibits bullying on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status, familial status, source of income and disability. The law also explicitly includes cyberbullying and harassment, and applies to all public schools.[15]

In October 2019, Governor Kate Brown signed an executive order to add gender identity to a 1987 policy that prohibites state agencies from engaging in unlawful discrimination (in hiring, the provision of public services, or any government-related interactions). The order had already included sexual orientation. Agencies will also be required a include a third gender option ("X") as a sex descriptor.[16]

Hate crime law[edit]

State law provides for additional penalties for crimes, known as hate crimes, committed based on the victim's gender identity or sexual orientation (alongside other categories, such as religion, race or sex).[17]

Gender identity and expression[edit]

In January 2013, as part of an out-of-court settlement in a discrimination suit with a public employee related to medical insurance coverage of a gender assignment surgical procedure, the state agreed to provide full medical insurance coverage for all such surgeries, drugs, and related treatments for individuals covered on public employee health plans.[18]

Since 2014, sex reassignment surgery has not been a requirement to change the gender marker on an Oregon birth certificate.[19] In addition, in August 2014, state officials announced that Oregon Medicaid would shortly begin covering hormone therapy and other treatments related to sex reassignment.[20]

On June 10, 2016, an Oregon circuit court ruled that a resident could legally change their gender to non-binary. The Transgender Law Center believed this to be "the first ruling of its kind in the U.S."[21] Since July 1, 2017, the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles has offered a third choice for gender on licenses and identification cards: "X" designating a neutral or non-binary gender identity.[22]

In May 2017, a law passed the Oregon Legislative Assembly to abolish the 1991 requirement for transgender people to publish their names in newspapers before they undergo a legal change of sex on government documents. This requirement was viewed as a breach of privacy and a safety risk for transgender people.[23] In January 2019, Representative Karin Power introduced a bill to amend a 1951 Oregon mental health law which equated "transvestites" with paedophilia. In April 2019, the bill passed the Oregon Legislative Assembly, by a vote of 58-2 in the House and 29-0 with 1 excused in the Senate. Governor Kate Brown signed it into law on May 6.[24][25][26]

Conversion therapy[edit]

Oregon became the third state to ban performing sexual orientation change efforts (conversion therapy) on minors. On May 7, 2015, the Oregon Legislative Assembly passed a bill banning conversion therapy on minors. The bill passed the House by a vote of 41-18 and the Senate by a vote of 21-8. On May 18, 2015, Governor Kate Brown signed the bill into law, and it went into effect on July 1, 2015.[27][28]


Oregon Governor Kate Brown is the first openly bisexual governor in United States history. Oregon's House Speaker, Tina Kotek, is openly lesbian, married to her spouse Aimee Wilson. Michael McShane, the judge who struck down Oregon's same-sex marriage ban, is also openly gay.

Public opinion[edit]

A 2017 Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) opinion poll found that 67% of Oregonians supported same-sex marriage, while 25% opposed it and 7% were unsure.[2]

The same poll found that 72% of Oregonians supported an anti-discrimination law covering sexual orientation and gender identity. 21% were opposed.[29] Furthermore, 58% were against allowing public businesses to refuse to serve LGBT people due to religious beliefs, while 34% supported allowing such religiously-based refusals.[30]

Public opinion for LGBT anti-discrimination laws in Oregon
Poll source Date(s)
Margin of
% support % opposition % no opinion
Public Religion Research Institute January 3-December 30, 2018 1,006 ? 72% 23% 5%
Public Religion Research Institute April 5-December 23, 2017 1,130 ? 72% 21% 7%
Public Religion Research Institute April 29, 2015-January 7, 2016 1,296 ? 77% 16% 7%

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1972)
Equal age of consent Yes
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes (Since 2008)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes (Since 2008)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Yes (Since 2008)
Same-sex marriages Yes (Since 2014)
Recognition of same-sex couples Yes (Since 2008)
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples Yes (Since 2007)
Joint adoption by same-sex couples Yes (Since 2007)
Conversion therapy banned on minors Yes (Since 2015)
Right to change legal gender Yes
Third gender option Yes (Since 2017)
Access to IVF for lesbians Yes
Surrogacy arrangements for gay male couples Yes
MSMs allowed to donate blood Yes/No (Since 2015, one year deferral period)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The best and worst states for LGBT equality".
  2. ^ a b Public opinion on same-sex marriage by state: Oregon
  3. ^ a b c d e "Oregon Sodomy Law". Archived from the original on May 4, 2013. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
  4. ^ Mapes, Jeff (May 19, 2014). "Oregon gay marriage ban struck down by federal judge; same-sex marriages to begin". The Oregonian. Retrieved May 19, 2014.
  5. ^ Kershaw, Sarah (November 3, 2004). "Gay Marriage Bans Gain Wide Support in 10 States". New York Times. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  6. ^ McCarron, Steve (June 27, 2013). "Gay marriage supporters in Oregon focused on Nov. 2014 ballot". FOX12 Oregon. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  7. ^ "Oregon Registered Domestic Partners" (PDF). State of Oregon. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
  8. ^ National Conference of State Legislatures: "States offering benefits for same-sex partners of state employees", accessed April 16, 2011
  9. ^ Damewood, Andrea (October 16, 2013). "Oregon To Recognize Marriages of Gay Couples Wed Out of State". Willamette Week. Archived from the original on February 24, 2014. Retrieved February 13, 2014.
  10. ^ HB 2478
  11. ^ House Bill 2478
  12. ^ "Oregon's equality profile". Movement Advancement Project.
  13. ^ "Oregon Non-Discrimination Law". Archived from the original on November 11, 2013. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
  14. ^ "Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski Signs Basic Fairness Legislation: House Bill 2007 and Senate Bill 2". Salem News. May 9, 2007.
  15. ^ Oregon Anti-Bullying Laws & Policies
  16. ^ Powell, Meerah (October 25, 2019). "Oregon Expands Non-Discrimination Protections To Include Gender Identity".
  17. ^ "Oregon Hate Crimes Law". October 2, 2008. Archived from the original on December 3, 2013. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
  18. ^ "Oregon state employee benefits now cover gender-reassignment surgery". The Oregonian. January 24, 2013. Retrieved July 1, 2013.
  19. ^ Straus, Becky; Diaz, Kevin; Goad, Amanda (June 14, 2013). "Oregon Legislature Repeals Surgery Requirement for Gender Change on Birth Certificate". ACLU Blog of Rights. American Civil Liberties Union. Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  20. ^ "Oregon Medicaid to cover gender reassignment". Associated Press. August 15, 2014. Retrieved August 17, 2014.
  21. ^ O'Hara, Mary Emily (June 10, 2016). "'Nonbinary' is now a legal gender, Oregon court rules". The Daily Dot.
  22. ^ Oregon becomes first state to allow nonbinary on drivers license
  23. ^ HB 2673
  24. ^ HB 2589, 2019 Regular Session
  25. ^ "HB2589". LegiScan.
  26. ^ Stenvick, Blair (January 22, 2019). "A Bill in the Oregon Legislature Would Remove Transphobic Language From State Law". Portland Mercury.
  27. ^ "Bill to ban conversion therapy for LGBT youth sent to Kate Brown's desk". Oregon Live. May 7, 2015.
  28. ^ HB2307, Oregon Legislature
  29. ^ Public opinion on LGBT nondiscrimination laws by state: Oregon
  30. ^ Public opinion on religiously based refusals to serve gay and lesbian people by state: Oregon

Further reading[edit]