PORTLAND, Ore. – A ballot measure is moving forward aimed at business owners who want to turn away same-sex couples whose weddings they object to for religious reasons.
The measure, titled the Protect Religious Freedom Initiative, seeks an exemption to Oregon's anti-discrimination law, and comes one year after a suburban Portland bakery refused to bake a cake for a same-sex couple's wedding because of its owners' religious beliefs.
The initiative joins legislation in at least 10 other states, most of which withered and died under a national outcry that they would legalize discrimination. Oregon's is the nation's first voter-driven initiative to target businesses specifically for an exemption; other voter efforts have tried to create far broader religious exemptions.
The Oregon Supreme Court approved the final ballot language for the measure on Thursday.
The Oregon bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, was found by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries to have violated the civil rights of the same-sex couple. After intense local attention, the bakery closed its storefront and relocated to a Gresham home.
The ballot measure followed soon after.
"Religious freedom is more than just private worship," the measure's filers wrote. "It involves public expression on moral and social issues."
Shawn Lindsay, general counsel for Friends of Religious Freedom, which sponsored the measure, said Friday that current law discriminates against those whose religious beliefs would be violated if they participated in same-sex ceremonies.
"A Jewish pianist or a Christian violinist who may not want to participate in a same sex ceremony based on deeply held religious beliefs are currently subject to government penalties and civil actions," Lindsay said in an email.
A similar situation in Denver resulted in an administrative law judge ruling that a bakery had violated Colorado law by refusing to serve a gay couple.
Nationally, seven such measures were introduced in 2014 by legislatures in three states: Tennessee, Kansas and South Dakota. None became law.
But Eunice Rho of the American Civil Liberties Union says the Oregon measure is "quite broad and unprecedented" compared with the legislative-driven measures in other states.
"I think this is a movement that has been building over time," Rho said. "The religious freedom talking point is a red herring. There's no doubt that they are seeking to use religion to discriminate."
Jennifer Pizer of Lambda Legal said that most bills seeking exemptions from anti-discrimination laws are founded in religious freedom, and stem from conversations among religious conservatives who sought similar goals.
"As we look at the bills introduced state to state, there are many, many similarities," Pizer said. "They seem to resemble each other pretty closely."
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