Oregon’s advocates for marriage equality are collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to bring marriage equality to the state, now with strong financial support from Nike. But opponents are trying a new strategy: the Oregon Family Council has filed its own initiative that would allow for discrimination against same-sex couples even if marriage equality passes.
The proposed Protect Religious Freedom Initiative would create a “right to discriminate” for any business that normally works with weddings. Were it to pass, florists, bakers, photographers, and other wedding professionals could simply refuse to serve same-sex couples without being in violation of the state’s public accommodation nondiscrimination protections. Here’s the proposed text:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, if doing so would violate a person’s deeply held religious beliefs, a person acting in a nongovernmental capacity may not be:
(a) Penalized by the state or a political subdivision of this state for declining to solemnize, celebrate, participate in, facilitate, or support any same-sex marriage ceremony or its arrangements, same-sex civil union ceremony or its arrangements, or same-sex domestic partnership ceremony or its arrangements; or
(b) Subject to a civil action for declining to solemnize, celebrate, participate in, facilitate, or support any same-sex marriage ceremony or its arrangements, same-sex civil union ceremony or its arrangements, or same-sex domestic partnership ceremony or its arrangements.
In some ways, this suggests conservatives have already conceded that they will lose the marriage equality initiative. Indeed, though the vote won’t take place until a year from now, Oregon voters were ready to support it a full year ago, though a May poll suggests some voters are still undecided. Oregon also began recognizing same-sex marriages from other states last month.
Still, the “religious freedom” initiative would have implications even if marriage equality fails. This year, two different bakeries in Oregon have violated the state’s nondiscrimination laws by refusing to provide wedding cakes to same-sex couples holding commitment ceremonies. In the case of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, the couple filed a complaint with the Oregon Labor Bureau, and while the investigation is still ongoing, the bakery has already closed its public storefront.
The Oregon Family Council will have to collect signatures for its initiative to qualify for the ballot just like marriage equality advocates are doing for theirs. Oregon United for Marriage announced this week it has collected 115,000 signatures toward the equality initiative. A total of 116,284 valid signatures are required, and the group plans to keep collecting so that it has a large enough cushion in case some signatures are invalidated.