by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
The Oregon Family Council, the right-wing fundamentalist group leading the campaign against that state's marriage equality initiative, has filed its own counter-measure.
Called the 'Protect Religious Freedom Initiative,' the proposed ballot measure would allow individuals and businesses to refuse their services for same-sex civil union, domestic partnership, or marriage celebrations, if those violate their religious beliefs.
The paperwork was filed on November 21, and the measure's sponsors now have to collect some 165,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot in November 2014.
The Oregon Family Council has also formed a front group, called Protect Marriage Oregon, to fight the pro-equality Freedom to Marry Initiative that is also slated for the November 2014 ballot.
A CHANGING LANDSCAPE
Anti-equality forces are having a hard time getting political traction, however.
A PPP poll taken in December 2012 showed that 54% of Oregon voters support same-sex marriage, with only 40% opposed. NOM, once the storm troopers of the anti-equality movement, are now operating in the red, with few recent victories to their credit. And here in Washington, the religious right was vastly outspent by pro-equality forces in the R-74 campaign that legalized same-sex marriage.
All these considerations may have led the Oregon Family Council to reconsider their strategy. In any case, they now say that their main emphasis will be on passing their own counter-measure, rather than defeating the Freedom to Marry Initiative.
'As the Oregon Family Council, our focus is going to be the Protect Religious Freedom Initiative,' their communications director, Teresa Harke, told The Oregonian. 'That's kind of our primary concern now.'
ACTIVISTS VOW PUSHBACK
Calling the new initiative a 'serious threat,' the pro-marriage-equality Oregon United for Marriage charged that the measure was 'pointed straight at defeating our freedom-to-marry measure.'
'Not only that,' Oregon United continued in an e-mail to supporters, 'it would blast a hole in Oregon's anti-discrimination laws - directly attacking LGBT Oregonians in their everyday lives.'
If it passed, the so-called 'Religious Freedom' initiative would, in effect, allow people who provide services and public accommodations to discriminate against potential customers on the basis of their sex, and sexual orientation, in violation of Oregon's existing nondiscrimination laws. Sexual orientation and gender identity have been protected in Oregon since 2008.
AIMING FOR CONFUSION
According to Oregon United, the right-wing strategy is to put competing measures on the ballot in 2014 in order to confuse voters.
'The opposition knows that having both measures on the same ballot will lead to confusion, and confusion leads to people voting No,' the group said. 'It has worked with other issues in Oregon, and it could work this time as well.'
Oregon United warned that if the recent trend towards marriage equality is reversed by a defeat in Oregon, 'it sets the stage for increased opposition fundraising capacity for the 2016 cycle across the country.'
Both camps have substantial experience working around the issue of same-sex marriage.
The Oregon Family Council ran the successful 2004 campaign for a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Basic Rights Oregon, the state's largest LGBT rights group, has been laying the groundwork for a statewide vote on the issue since 2009. In 2011 the group decided not to go to the ballot in 2012, but after the landmark ballot victories last year in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington, they helped form Oregon United for Marriage to bring a measure to a vote in 2014.
'NAZI' ANALOGY DRAWS FIRE
While their campaign to qualify their anti-Gay initiative has barely started, the Oregon Family Council suffered a major self-inflicted wound when their spokesperson compared Gay and Lesbian couples to Nazis.
'Would you expect a Jewish bakery to serve a neo-Nazi who wanted a cake with a swastika on it?' Harke said in an interview with The Oregonian.
That comment sparked a letter of protest from 13 Oregon rabbis, joined by the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and the Oregon Area Jewish Committee.
The letter, written by Rabbi Michael Cahana of Congregation Beth Israel in Portland, said the comment was an 'insult to the memory of those who perished' in the Holocaust 'to use one of history's greatest atrocities to forward your political agenda.'
'It really is using an illustration that is so offensive,' Cahana told Oregonian reporters. 'Here you're making a comparison between a hate group that supports the elimination of Jews in the world and a couple that wants to sanctify their marriage.'
Oregon Family Council President Jack Louman apologized in an e-mail, saying, 'The example was not meant to offend you or anyone else and as such will not be used in the future,' but Louman also defended the analogy as 'an example of rights of individual conscience.'
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