Battle between religious freedom and gay rights heats up in Oregon

Battle between religious freedom and gay rights heats up in Oregon »Play Video
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced shewouldl not defend the state's ban on gay marriage, arguing it cannot withstand a federal constitutional challenge. (KATU photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. -- A ban on same sex marriage in Texas, wiped away by a federal judge, and the right to refuse doing business with gays in Arizona, ripped up by the governor. Those are two big decisions in the southwest are still being debated in the northwest, and set precedents for similar issues that could go before Oregon voters come November.

One potential ballot measure would give voters a chance to decide if same-sex marriages should be performed in Oregon. That initiative is currently called “IP8”. The other initiative, “IP52”, would give people, and businesses, the choice to be involved with same-sex marriages based on religious freedom. How all of this plays out in Oregon hinges partly on a federal court decision coming up this spring.

Oregon United for Marriage is the group behind “IP8”. Since, October 16, 2013, Oregon has recognized same-sex marriages that were performed in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is already legal. Oregon United for Marriage wants to amend Oregon’s constitution to make same-sex ceremonies held within the state’s borders legal. 

"It ultimately is about a final commitment and a final acknowledgment by friends and family that you are a family,” said Mike Marshall, campaign manager for Oregon United for Marriage.

That group is focused on getting “IP8” on the November ballot. They gathered 160,000 signatures by Feb. 14 to file with the Secretary of State’s office. But, it’s also waiting to see how a federal judge in Eugene rules on a challenge to Oregon’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage before they determine how much money and grass-roots support to throw behind the campaign.

That’s the same case Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced last week that she won’t defend.

"There is no good reason to exclude same-sex couples from marriage in Oregon or from having their marriages recognized here,” said Rosenblum.

On Wednesday, a judge in Texas overturned a similar ban.

Marshall calls both of those victories, "Every time a federal judge rules, it helps the federal judge in Oregon that's considering this case to rule on the right side of history."

While Marshall believes the fight for same-sex marriage in Oregon is moving in the right direction, he knows it's not over.

“IP52” would allow people and businesses to choose if they want to be involved in same-sex marriage ceremonies based on religious freedom. That initiative is sponsored by a group called, “Friends of Religious Freedom.” It’s part of the Oregon Family Council.

The state Bureau of Labor and Industries recently fined Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a Gresham bakery, for denying service to a lesbian couple because it determined that violated the Oregon Equality Act of 2007. The bakery's owners stand by their decision to not help the couple, based on their religious beliefs.

Under “IP52,” businesses like Sweet Cakes would be able to decide not to participate in a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) vetoed a similar bill in her state on Wednesday afternoon.

"The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences,” Brewer said.

Marshall watched Brewer’s announcement, and believes she made the right decision.

"When you treat somebody differently because of who they love, or who they are, that's discrimination,” Marshall explained.

"Friends of Religious Freedom" doesn't see it that way. They believe religion is about private worship and public expression, according to a press release.

Neither “IP8” nor “IP52” are officially on Oregon’s ballot yet; they're still going through the Secretary of State's office.

In a letter to Oregon Secretary of State, Kate Brown, Friends of Religious Freedom has accused that office of using “politically charged” language in the measure's title, and writing a misleading description of it. They've asked the office to consider changing the language before the ballot measure goes public.

KATU News contacted the Oregon Family Council for their take on all of this, and to be part of the story. We are still waiting to hear back.