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Religious Tolerance logo

Same-sex marriage (SSM) and domestic partnerships in Oregon.

Store Owners Seeking The
"Religious Freedom To
Discriminate" Against Customers.

During 2013-NOV

Part 6:

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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Resistance against human rights legislation, and the movement to allow "religious freedom to discriminate:"

"Public Accommodations" are businesses that provide a service or product to the general public. This includes department stores, professional photographers, bakeries, groups that rent venues, etc. Most states have laws in place that require these business to not discriminate against customers on the basis of their race, skin color, religion, gender, and national origin. Some states also include protection to other groups of customers; for example, forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Although these are typically called civil rights laws, a better name might be "golden rule laws." The golden rule is found in all of the main religions and many secular philosophies. It typically states that a person should treat others as that person would wish to be treated by others.

Between the years 2000 and 2007, there have been perhaps a dozen public accommodations providing marriage-related goods and services in the U.S. whose owners have been charged with violating their state's human rights legislation by refusing to fill a customer's order for religious reasons.

There could be many different reasons why a company would refuse service to potential customers on the basis of religion: the owner of the company might oppose divorce and not want to serve a divorced person. They might beleive that pre-marital sex is a serious sin and not want to serve people who are living together without having first being married. But all of the owners who have received prominent exposure in the media have been conservative Christians who have refused to serve potential customers who have a bisexual or homosexual orientation. There was one high profile case where a lesbian couple tried to hire a professional photographer to photograph their committment ceremony in a state that did not allow same-sex marriage. Most of the rest of the cases have involved bakers who have been asked to bake a wedding cake.

At first, some of these find that their business is significantly enhanced afterwards as potential customers who are themselves opposed to marriage equality, hunt down these business and preferentially obtain their services. However, later in the 2010's, owners began to notice the opposite effect: they have experienced a serious drop in sales and have been considered bigoted by some potential customers who disapprove of the owner's discrimination.

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"Contrarius," a reader of the Deseret News article from Tennessee on this topic, posted the following negative comment about a proposed state law that would allow public accommodation :

"Right to discriminate initiative." And that's exactly what it would be, too:

-- Does your religion tell you that blacks are inferior to whites? This initiative will allow you to turn them away at your business's front door.

-- Does your religion tell you that white Christian men are the Evil Overlords? You can turn them away at the front door too.

-- Does your religion tell you that Mormons are cultists? No wedding cakes for them.

-- Does your religion tell you that it's sinful to give birth out of wedlock? You don't have to help with baby showers for unwed mothers.

-- Does your religion tell you that women should stay in the home and raise babies? You don't have to hire any to work for your business.

-- Does your religion tell you that blood transfusions are evil? The hospital you run doesn't have to offer them to any of its patients.

-- Does your religion tell you that taxes are the work of the Devil? No income tax for you!

Talk about slippery slopes and unintended consequences! This sort of right-to-discriminate law would only lead to widespread hatred and fragmentation of society." 1

Actually, Contrarius' comment is inaccurate, because the Oregon initiative to which he was referring was very narrowly worded to allow the freedom to discriminate only in matters related to same-sex couples, and do not include discrimination based on racism, religism (bigotry towards other religions/belief systems), a birth out of wedlock, blood transfusions, or taxes.

There have been many attempts by legislatures in other states to pass "right to discriminate" legislation. But, most have failed. A bill in Arizona raised a firestorm of opposition from civil rights promoters, the LGBT community, many professional sports groups who feared the loss of the 2015 Super Bowl and other tournaments, 83 companies, Chambers of Commerce, tourism groups, etc. It was even opposed by three Republican state Senators who had previously voted for the bill but had second thoughts afterwards. The bill in Arizona was the first "license to discriminate" bill to make it to the Governor for signing, and she vetoed the legislation. More details.

The citizen initiative in Oregon is the first attempt to try to pass a constitutional amendment to allow business owners and corporations to discriminate on the basis of their sincerely held religious beliefs. If it is passed by the voters, we suspect that it would not withstand a subsequent federal court challenge. It would appear to violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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2013-NOV-22: Think Progress article comments on the "Protect Religious Freedom Initiative:"

Think Progress is a liberal media group promoting marriage equality and other liberal causes. Author Zack Ford wrote about Oregon's "Protect Religious Freedom Initiative:"

"... the vote won’t take place until a year from now. ... Oregon voters were ready to support it a full year ago, though a [2013 -] May poll suggests some voters are still undecided. Oregon also began recognizing same-sex marriages [solemnized in] ... other states last month.

Still, the “religious freedom” initiative would have implications even if marriage equality fails. This year, two different bakeries in Oregon have violated the state’s nondiscrimination [human rights] laws by refusing to provide wedding cakes to same-sex couples holding commitment ceremonies. In the case of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, the couple filed a complaint with the Oregon Labor Bureau, and while the investigation is still ongoing, the bakery has already closed its public storefront.

The Oregon Family Council will have to collect signatures for its initiative to qualify for the ballot just like marriage equality advocates are doing for theirs. ... A total of 116,284 valid signatures are required ..." 2

Some of the readers of the Think Progress article posted some interesting comments:

  • Victoria Lamb Hatch posted:

    "Allowing any merchant serving the general public to practice discrimination sets a dangerous precedent. If we truly allow discrimination for religious reasons, what's to stop a merchant from refusing to serve an interracial couple? What's to stop a restaurateur from banning people of color from his establishment if he believes them to be inferior for religious reasons? What's to stop a merchant from serving women if he believes women should be silent, at home taking care of children, and not out in public?

    It still boils down to this -- if your business cannot comply with civil laws, you need to find another line of work. Our separation of church and state means that you may discriminate if you are a church or other religious organization, but if you serve the general public you're subject to the [human rights] laws of the state."

    She apparently misunderstood the scope of the bill. It is very narrowly focused on merchants being asked to provide goods and/or services for a same-sex marriage. It does not include immunity from human rights laws based on race, gender, etc.

  • Dan Kurtz posted:
  • "One thing missing from this particular article is the fact that those two bakeries were very selective about their right to discriminate for "religious" reasons. Undercover buyers had no problems ordering cakes to celebrate divorce, out-of-wedlock children, etc. The only objection the bakeries had was with same-sex couples."

  • James Degenhardt posted:

    "Here's a couple of facts:

    Owning a business is not a right. It's a privilege. And with that privilege, you must voluntarily agree to adhere to certain laws, even if those laws violate your personal morality.

    Religion is a form of personal morality.

    Way back in 1878, our US Supreme Court ruled that freedom of Religion grants only the right to worship, and not to invoke every ritual of their faith, if such ritual violated other law.

    If this proposed thing were to become law, and such a law violated the religious beliefs of a potential customer, can that customer get an exemption to this, and force the company to again comply with existing anti-discrimination laws?

    The [equal protection clause in the] Fourteenth Amendment of our U.S. Constitution categorically forbids any law of this type."

  • Joseph Robertson posted:

    "It looks as if the religious right is running scared, as well they should be. They know, at least as far as Oregon is concerned, that the 'writing is on the wall' with respect to marriage equality. I doubt this initiative will go anywhere, but it's welcoming seeing the right running up the white flag a year before the marriage ballot initiative is set in place."

  • David Grim posted:

    "Um, just like some white restaurant owners used to think it was their right not to serve our African American brothers and sisters due to personal religious reasons. NEWSFLASH! Bigotry and discrimination are not religious virtues. 2

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Matthew Brown, "Oregon religious freedom group counters gay marriage ballot proposal," Deseret News, 2013-NOV-27, at: http://www.deseretnews.com/
  2. Zack Ford, "Oregon marriage equality opponents file 'Right to Discriminate' initiative," Think Progress, 2013-NOV-22, at: http://thinkprogress.org/

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Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Menu > Oregon > here

Copyright © 2012 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2012-DEC-17
Latest update: 2017-MAR-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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