The language of the initiative reads as follows:
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.
Ostensibly, this stems from two incidents where Oregon bakeries (Sweet Cakes and Fleur Cakes) refused service to lesbian couples who wanted cakes for their weddings. (Same-sex marriage is presently illegal in Oregon, but legal just across the Columbia River, in Washington.) The couples filed complaints with the State that the bakeries violated Oregon's anti-discrimination law, which says, among other things, that a public business cannot refuse service to LGBT customers. Sweet Cakes responded by shutting its doors and moving to a private kitchen, probably so they would no longer be a public business.
On the face of it, this initiative is intended to shield Christian businesses (such as bakeries) from having to compromise their beliefs and serve same-sex couples. There are two other intentions here that are less obvious:
- Rally support against the Oregon United for Marriage initiative. It's not just enough to say, "we're against this." They also have to frame this as a fight to prevent real people from real harm. Like it or not, being forced to choose between your business and your religious beliefs is a compelling story of victimhood.
- Rally support against Senator Jeff Merkley. He's up for re-election in 2014, at the same time that both this initiative and the Oregon United for Marriage initiative should be on the ballot. He was also critical in passing SB2, which became the Oregon law banning LGBT discrimination. This initiative helps to frame the case for defeating him in the next election.
I have no doubt that the Oregon Family Council measure will make it to the ballot. Oregon's liberal, blue-state reputation comes mostly from the Portland metro area and Eugene. Outside of those areas - including in Salem - it's more like Idaho. Ergo, there's certainly enough signatures to qualify the initiative. Whether it will succeed in the polls is another matter. It's not just anti-gay bigots who are going to vote for this measure, but also libertarians who don't want the State telling bigots that they have to violate their morals or close their businesses. Oregon doesn't have enough of the religious right to pass this measure, but it could have enough libertarians to pass this law. Those same libertarians, by the way, are likely to also vote for the same-sex marriage statute. The principle in both cases is that government shouldn't be the arbiter of moral behavior.