Two weeks after the state house did so, today the state senate voted to grant same-sex couples all of the rights, benefits, and responsibilities of married couples under state law. The governor has said he will sign the bill. As in the other states that have adopted civil unions, the new status is limited to same-sex couples and includes the age, consanguinity, capacity and other requirements to enter a marriage. Unlike marriage, there is no requirement of a solemnizing ceremony. The bill itself describes the status as a "binding civil union contract." Its text can be found here.
From the legislative findings:
(3) Many gay and lesbian Oregonians have formed lasting, committed, caring and faithful relationships with individuals of the same sex, despite long-standing social and economic discrimination. These couples live together, participate in their communities together and often raise children and care for family members together, just as do couples who are married under Oregon law. Without the ability to obtain some form of legal status for their relationships, same-sex couples face numerous obstacles and hardships in attempting to secure rights, benefits and responsibilities for themselves and their children. Many of the rights, benefits and responsibilities that the families of married couples take for granted cannot be obtained in any way other than through state recognition of committed same-sex partnerships.
(4) This state has a strong interest in promoting stable and lasting families, including the families of same-sex couples and their children. All Oregon families should be provided with the opportunity to obtain necessary legal protections and status and the ability to achieve their fullest potential.
(5) Sections 1 to 9 of this 2007 Act are intended to better align Oregon law with the values embodied in the Constitution and public policy of this state, and to further the state's interest in the promotion of stable and lasting families, by extending benefits, protections and responsibilities to committed same-sex partners and their children that are comparable to those provided to married individuals and their children by the laws of this state.
(6) The establishment of a civil union system will provide legal recognition to same-sex relationships, thereby ensuring more equal treatment of gays and lesbians and their families under Oregon law.
Oregon joins California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont in extending all of the benefits and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples. Hawaii, Maine, Washington state, and D.C, grant legal recognition and some of the rights of marriage to same-sex couples. That makes ten states (plus DC) recognizing and protecting gay families to some extent. Seven of these have done so legislatively; the other three under court compulsion.
Oregon is different in one important respect from the other states that have so far adopted civil unions. Unlike the other civil-union states, there's a possible legal challenge to the new law in Oregon: the state passed a constitutional amendment in 2004 limiting marriage to one man and one woman. While the new law does not let gay couples marry, opponents can be expected to argue that granting the substance of marriage to gay couples without the name nevertheless violates the state constitution. However, a difference between the Oregon constitutional amendment and many other state marriage amendments is that it did not ban marriage and "the equivalent of marriage" for same-sex couples. It was thus a narrower amendment than the ones that have passed elsewhere. Whether that sort of difference will save the new civil union law in Oregon state courts remains to be seen.