Oregon voters may have two same-sex marriage ballot initiatives to consider when they go to the polls next year.
But the ballot proposal countering the one that would legalize gay marriage takes a different approach. Instead of directly opposing same-sex marriage, it would exempt religious objectors from accommodating same-sex couples.
"Friends of Religious Freedom filed the Protect Religious Freedom Initiative (Nov. 21) in order to safeguard religious freedom in Oregon and to allow conscientious objectors or persons with deeply held religious beliefs to decline to participate in same-sex ceremonies," the Oregon Family Council announced last week.
The council is a conservative Christian group that helped lead the 2004 campaign to ban same-sex marriage in Oregon, the Portland Tribune reported. The council has also formed Protect Marriage Oregon to oppose the possible November 2014 ballot measure that would amend the Oregon Constitution to legalize same-sex marriage.
But the "Protect Religious Freedom Initiative" appears to be the primary vehicle the council will use to counter the gay marriage initiative.
“As the Oregon Family Council, our focus is going to be the Protect Religious Freedom Initiative,” spokeswoman Teresa Harke told the Tribune. “That’s kind of our primary concern now.”
The council's press release announcing the initiative's filing said the move is in response to a growing trend of business owners with conscientious objections being forced to "compromise their individual conscience rights or face harassment, persecution, penalties levied upon them by the state, and the possibility of losing their business for declining to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies."
One of those cases is in Oregon, where Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian launched an investigation into a Gresham bakery that refused to provide a cake for a marriage between two women, the Oregonian reported.
The website "Think Progress" characterized the OFC's proposal as a "right to discriminate initiative," but also indicated the move has an upside for gay marriage proponents.
"In some ways, this suggests conservatives have already conceded that they will lose the marriage equality initiative," TP's Zack Ford wrote. "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."
Both initiatives are in the signature gathering stage, and if state election officials OK the proposals, they would be on the November 2014 ballot.
Same-sex marriage opponents are divided over whether exemptions are the best tactic in their fight against such marriages, the Deseret News reported earlier this month. While exemptions for clergy and houses of worship in same-sex marriage bills have been successful in several states, protections for private individuals have gone nowhere. The Oregon initiative would be the first time such an exemption would be put before voters.