In response to being approved to proceed with collecting signatures, Oregon conservatives have abandoned a campaign promoting a ballot initiative that would allow business owners to use “religious freedom” as a lawful excuse to discriminate against same-sex couples. Instead, the group will plan to file a lawsuit on behalf of businesses who object to providing services for same-sex commitment ceremonies.
The reason for the shift is that the Friends of Religious Freedom, a project of the Oregon Family Council, lost a fight over how the proposed “religious freedom” language would be worded on the ballot. The state Supreme Court approved ballot language that had been devised by the attorney general’s office after hearing feedback from both the initiative’s proponents and its opponents. That language emphasized that the policy would be an exception to nondiscrimination protections, not a preservation of “religious liberty.”
Here’s what the Oregon Family Council proposed for the ballot’s title:
Protects persons choosing non-participation in same-sex ceremonies based on conscience or religious belief from penalization
Here’s what the attorney general’s office originally proposed:
Exempts religious opposition to same sex marriage/civil union/domestic partnership from penalties for discrimination
And here is the final certified ballot title, approved by the Supreme Court last week:
“Religious belief” exceptions to anti-discrimination laws for refusing services, other, for same-sex ceremonies, “arrangements”
According to Friends of Religious Freedom, this title describes the proposed policy as “intolerant instead of protecting equal rights of conscience.” In an editorial last week, The Oregonian urged readers not to be fooled by this distinction, explaining that the change would have created “a yawning loophole in state antidiscrimination law for garden variety homophobia” and it is thus “a complete sham.” The initiative came about after the bakery Sweet Cakes by Melissa refused to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple, an action later found to be in violation of state law.
Oregon United Against Discrimination, the coalition organized to resist the ballot initiative, celebrated the campaign suspension, praising Oregonians for realizing “that this measure would allow businesses to discriminate against people because of who they are and whom they love. And discrimination is just wrong.”
The end of this campaign mirrors the defeat of various other pro-discrimination “religious liberty” bills across the country — most notably, in Arizona. Only Mississippi successfully passed such a bill, though it did not change the status quo because the state has neither statewide nor any municipal-level LGBT nondiscrimination laws that would be compromised by the law.
A federal judge is currently considering a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. The Williams Institute estimates that marriage equality would bring $47 million to Oregon over the first three years, and a poll released last week found that 58 percent of Oregonians support changing the Oregon constitution to allow same-sex marriage.