Saturday, November 23, 2013

Oregon Religious Extremists File "Right To Discriminate" Initiative

Hmmm, there's an update from Oregon, where a proposed 2014 ballot measure to repeal a 2004 constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage is expected to qualify soon. According to Think Progress, Oregon United for Marriage they have 115,000 signatures of the 116, 284 signatures required to qualify an initiative.

As I have mentioned before, heterosexual supremacists are starting to recognize that the kulturkampf over marriage equality is almost over, and the forces for equality are winning. As a rearguard action, they are trying to change the argument from whether marriage equality should be enacted to "how can religious people be exempted from having to interact with legally married same-sex couples and acknowledge their existence." This shift is reflected in the fights over religious exemption amendments to marriage equality statutes that have been enacted in Delaware, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Illinois and Minnesota this year. It also explains why there is currently a case pending before the United States Supreme Court which revolves around the question of whether the refusal of a New Mexico religious photographer to provide services to a lesbian couple for their commitment ceremony is violating the Land of Enchantment's public accommodations statute.

Now in Oregon, the group that was preparing to fight the marriage equality initiative is filing their own initiative to "protect [the] religious freedom" of private citizens serving in non-governmental capacities from being published for  "declining to solemnize, celebrate, participate in, facilitate, or support" a same-sex marriage or commitment ceremony.

The full text of the initiative is:
Be It Enacted by the People of the State of Oregon:
SECTION 1. This 2014 Initiative shall be known as the Protect Religious Freedom Initiative and is intended to exempt a person from supporting same-sex ceremonies in violation of deeply held religious beliefs.
SECTION 2. Religious freedom is the first freedom guaranteed by the United States Constitution. It is a fundamental human right and is the right to express, think and act upon what you deeply believe. Religious freedom upholds stability in a diverse society. Wherever religious freedom is high, there is better health, more economic prosperity, lower income inequality and sustained democracy. Religious freedom protects the rights of all individuals and groups, whether religious or not. Unfortunately, there are groups pushing the view that religion is purely a private matter and that religious voices or opinions should be silenced. Religion is more than just private worship. It involves public expression on moral and social issues. Religious freedom, our first freedom, needs protection as this Initiative intends to do.
SECTION 3. (1) As used in this section:
(a) “Person” includes individuals, sole proprietorships, nonprofits, corporations, associations, firms, partnerships, limited liability companies, or other legal entities defined in ORS 174.100(5).
(2) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, if doing so would violate a person’s deeply held religious beliefs, a person acting in a nongovernmental capacity may not be:
(a) Penalized by the state or a political subdivision of this state for declining to solemnize, celebrate, participate in, facilitate, or support any same-sex marriage ceremony or its arrangements, same-sex civil union ceremony or its arrangements, or same-sex domestic partnership ceremony or its arrangements; or
(b) Subject to a civil action for declining to solemnize, celebrate, participate in, facilitate, or support any same-sex marriage ceremony or its arrangements, same-sex civil union ceremony or its arrangements, or same-sex domestic partnership ceremony or its arrangements.
(3) This section must be construed in favor of the broad protection of religious exercise to the maximum extent permitted by the Oregon Constitution and the United States Constitution. 
I would vote against this initiative if it qualified for the ballot, but I'm not sure that I am completely against a carveout in public accommodations law to allow religious people an exemption related to marriage equality ceremonies. However, I would only support an exception limited to this one area. The problem is that I am sure the religious extremists who are circulating this initiative would make the argument that if you are willing to exempt religious people from public accommodations law for the purpose of marriage ceremonies, why not also do so for other areas like housing or other "intimate" services like manicures, massages, etc.? Once you have a carve out for one area of public accommodation how would you prevent the accommodation from being extended to various other areas?

After all, in the grand scheme of things, if you are a religious person and you are offering your services to the public, that means that you are going to offer services to people who may do things that are completely anti-thetical to various aspects of your religion. Why is it that religious people want a carve out for not supporting same-sex marriages, but not for people who are getting married when the bride is pregnant, or the couple is interracial or for couples who violate some other religious principle. It is very hard to believe that this initiative is motivated by a desire to protect religious freedom and not a desire to protect religious-based homophobia.

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