PORTLAND — Sponsors of an initiative effort to preserve Oregon’s religious freedom laws are charging that state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is giving unfair, preferential treatment to a separate initiative to eliminate the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Specifically, the Friends of Religious Freedom — an offshoot of the Oregon Family Council — contend that Rosenblum’s proposed ballot title for their Initiative 52 uses inflammatory language that is not seen in the proposed ballot title for the same-sex marriage Initiative 8.
“The Friends of Religious Freedom Committee is deeply troubled at the lack of impartiality and fairness Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has shown in the draft ballot title for the Protect Religious Freedom Initiative (IP52),” states a press release issued by the committee Feb. 21. “The language drafted by the attorney general’s office for IP52 is misleading and riddled with politically charged and emotionally laden words that create bias and partiality.”
Rosenblum’s draft ballot title for Initiative 52 states: “Exempts religious opposition to same sex marriage/civil union/domestic partnership from penalties for discrimination.”
While the “politically charged” words “discrimination” or “opposition” are used by Rosenblum to identify the religious protection in Initiative 52, the committee noted she didn’t use those same words for the protection in Initiative 8..
Initiative 52 acknowledges the existing right of religious institutions and clergy to choose not to participate in same-sex ceremonies and recognizes that right extends to individuals of faith and individuals with conscientious objections.
The proposal was introduced in December out of Christians’ concerns that business owners of faith are increasingly being forced to compromise their individual conscience rights or face harassment, persecution or penalties.
Such has been the case, the committee notes, with bakers in Gresham in Colorado, a florist in Richland, Wash., and photographers in New Mexico. Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries in January ruled that Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery in Gresham had violated the civil rights of a same-sex couple when it refused to make a cake for their wedding. The state is now trying to work out a settlement between bakery owners Aaron and Melissa Klein of Gresham and the same-sex couple, but if that effort is unsuccessful, the Kleins could face charges before an administative law judge. In Washington, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson is suing Arlene’s Flowers in Richland for refusing to decorate a same-sex wedding; Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based Christian legal advocacy agency, has filed a countersuit on behalf of the business.
Both Oregon initiative efforts aim to see public votes in November. To make the ballot, Initiative 52, a proposed state statute, would require 87,213 valid signatures by voters by July 3. Initiative 8, a proposed constitutional amendment, would require at least 116,284 valid signatures by that date; sponsors of the measure claim that they have already garnered more than that amount.
The attorney general’s office will eventually propose a final ballot title that is likely to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Whether the supporters of the same-sex marriage Initiative 8 even turn in their petition signatures hinges, they say, on whether a federal judge this spring makes the whole effort unnecessary. Rosenblum last month announced that she won’t defend Oregon’s constitutional ban on gay marriage against two federal lawsuits challenging the ban. That makes it more likely that U.S. District Judge Michael McShane will follow the lead of other federal judges in striking down state bans against same-sex marriage.