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Thursday, May 8, 2014

"Discrimination" In, Businesses Out of "Religious Freedom" Initiative

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Thu, May 8, 2014 at 6:15 PM

It's sort of a tough day for backers of an initiative that would let businesses refuse to "participate" in same-sex weddings.

The Oregon Supreme Court, after nearly two months, ruled ballot language written by the Oregon Department of Justice passes muster. The campaign Friends of Religious Freedom—an offshoot of the Oregon Family Council—had hoped the court would remove the word "discrimination" from the caption and explanation of the measure, arguing it has a negative connotation. The court also turned down changes requested by same-sex marriage advocates.

The initiative in question would let anyone—individuals, corporations and pretty much everything in between—refuse to participate in a same-sex wedding, civil union or commitment ceremony for religious reasons. There's some debate about what effect the measure's language might actually have, and the ballot title the court approved today lays out a list of six words and phrases that aren't defined.

At very least, the initiative would likely give cover to people like bakers who don't want to provide cakes for same-sex weddings, florists who don't want to make bouquets, and photographers who don't want to snap pictures.

"I wouldn't say it's a loss for us," Shawn Lindsay, an attorney for the Friends of Religious Freedom, said of the Supreme Court's decision. The ruling frees up the campaign to begin gathering signatures—it needs more than 87,000 by July 3—but it first has to have petition sheets approved by the Oregon Secretary of State's Office. That's a "piece of cake," Lindsay said, but he stopped short of saying the campaign would submit the sheets tomorrow.

"We're gonna meet and analyze and discuss what's next."

Also this afternoon, Oregon United Against Discrimination, the campaign fighting the initiative, announced a large coalition of businesses that have joined its cause. Over 160 companies— including Nike, Google, Stimson Lumber (a big-time backer of Republican campaigns), Powell's, Columbia Sportswear and Moda Health— all oppose the measure, according to a press release.

The endorsements will be formally unveiled at a press event tomorrow morning. And they bode well for Oregon United Against Discrimination, which may need to find considerable cash to fight the initiative. Nike, in particular, has shown a willingness to throw money into same-sex marriage efforts.

Ryan Deckert, president of the Oregon Business Association, says the group's 40-business board took a vote to oppose the religious freedom initiative back in March.

"I was taken by how quick and swift the response was," Deckert said. "It didn't take them very long to say: Really bad idea."

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