With all the much-deserved excitement around the possibility of marriage equality in Oregon, many folks may have missed another initiative that, until last Friday, had been gaining momentum and posed a significant threat to LGBTQ Oregonians.
The so-called “religious freedom” measure being pushed forward by the Oregon Family Council would have created exemptions in already existing anti-discrimination laws in Oregon, allowing businesses to deny goods and services to LGBTQ couples. In other words, it would have made it legal for businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ couples—writing discrimination back into law in Oregon.
Like the bill that was moving through the Arizona legislature back in February—which was thankfully vetoed by Governor Jan Brewer (in part due to pressure from prominent national and local businesses)—we are seeing initiatives across the country that allow for blanket discrimination against LGBTQ people in the name of “religious liberty.”
In order to fight this measure and prevent the weakening of our current anti-discrimination laws, Pride Foundation joined the Oregon United Against Discrimination campaign, made up of a coalition of 462 organizations and leaders, 190 businesses, and 167 faith leaders.
Thanks to these efforts, I’m happy to report that on May 9th, the Oregon Family Council decided that they would no longer move forward with the initiative, and suspended gathering signatures for this measure. This was likely in part due to the recent Oregon Supreme Court ruling that denied their petition to change the title for their ballot measure. When Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum’s office accurately named the title to reflect its discriminatory nature, the Oregon Family Council claimed that the wording was “politically charged” and they were worried it would bias voters.
The support across Oregon to fight against this discriminatory measure was significant, strong, and quick—and it worked. This marked a significant milestone in the battle for LGBTQ equality. Opponents to marriage equality have indicated that “religious exemption” measures would be their next battleground to strip away rights and protections from LGBTQ people. Their loss in Oregon indicates that their fear tactics won’t work, and I hope future ballot initiatives in other states are struck down as efficiently and effectively.
As the hearing in the federal court case to gain the freedom to marry in Oregon moves forward, I am encouraged by this victory, and look forward to the changes that I know are on the horizon.
Katie Carter is Pride Foundation’s regional development organizer in Oregon. Email Katie.