Oregon voters will likely face two questions about gay marriage when they go to the ballot this year: whether to become the 18th state to let same-sex couples wed, and whether the state should be the first to allow florists, cake makers and others to refuse to participate in these weddings on religious grounds. The ballot initiatives set up what some activists have said is the next frontier in the marriage debate – as more states move to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples, those who object on religious grounds want a legal right to opt out. “This is not a sideshow issue,” said James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union, referring to the Oregon ballot initiative and the coming debate over religious exemption.
“This is going to be the issue that we fight about for the next ten years, at least, in the (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights movement.” In Oregon and 20 other states, it is illegal to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation. The Oregon initiative, which is still awaiting formal approval and could face legal challenges, would create an exemption to that protection. Several states are considering similar legislation. In South Dakota, a bill was introduced this month that would allow businesses to refuse same-sex wedding-related services. Teresa Harke, whose group Friends of Religious Freedom proposed Oregon’s religious exemption referendum, said that as the marriage debate continues, guarantees are needed to ensure those on both sides of the issue are treated fairly. More