Religion

'Religious Exemption': The New, Legal Discrimination Against Gays In Oregon?

| by Allison Geller

To combat the ballot measure that would allow gay marriage, Oregon conservatives are preparing another initiative to put forth to voters: one that would allow discrimination based on one’s religious beliefs.

While discrimination based on a person’s sexuality is illegal in Oregon and 20 other states, the provision would provide an exemption to that rule, Reuters reports. Bakers would no longer be obliged to make cakes for same-sex weddings, country clubs would not have to provide a venue to couples they didn’t approve of, and photographers would not have to capture ceremonies they found morally wrong.

Christian activists say the law is necessary to protect religious freedom.

"We wanted to make sure that, no matter which way marriage is defined in Oregon, that folks who hold a view based on their faith that marriage is between one man and one woman are not going to be discriminated against or be silenced for declining to participate in same-sex weddings," said Teresa Harke of Friends of Religious Freedom, which proposed the religious freedom referendum in Oregon.

The exemption, called the Protect Religious Freedom Initiative, would let Sweet Cakes by Melissa bakery owners slide. The Oregon business owners were charged by the Bureau of Labor and Industries with discriminating against a gay couple, and are now in settlement negotiations.

With the religious exemption, gay people would have no such protection, says James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union. And that marks the new wave in the fight for LGBT rights.

“This is not a sideshow issue," Esseks told Reuters of the exemption. "This is going to be the issue that we fight about for the next ten years, at least, in the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights movement."

Esseks called the move an effort by religious conservatives to “carve out a space where gay people's equality does not affect the way these other folks live their daily lives."

A similar bill has been introduced in Arizona, which would allow Christian business owners and professionals to refuse to sell or serve to gays.