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Same-sex ceremonies at center of initiative debate


A fiery debate in Arizona now finds a new home in Oregon.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer recently vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses to deny services to gay and lesbian customers, based on religious beliefs.

There’s something similar in the works in Oregon: the Protect Religious Freedom Initiative.

It comes as Oregonians wait to see if a federal judge will overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage –a ruling from the court could be handed down in the coming months.

“The first freedom is religion,” Diocese of Baker Bishop Liam Cary said Tuesday.

Leaders of Friends of Religious Freedoms, the sponsors of the initiative, say they want to make it clear that the movement doesn’t allow businesses to completely stop serving gay customers — but rather would let them refuse to serve a gay wedding ceremony.

Similar controversies have broken out in recent years, such as a Gresham bakery that was hit with state claims of discrimination for refusing to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.

“What we don’t want to have happen is people being forced or coerced to participate in a ceremony that violates their conscience,” Friends of Religious Freedom Legal Counsel Shawn Lindsay said Tuesday.

But gay activists claim the initiative is rooted in discrimination.

“Freedom means freedom for everyone, and it’s wrong to treat someone differently for who they are or who they love,” said Oregon United for Marriage spokesman Peter Zuckerberg.

Central Oregon church leaders said freedom for everyone shouldn’t leave out those of faith.

“This is a matter of forcing the conscience,,and demonizing any opposition to it,” Cary said. “It could drive them out of business, take away their ability to provide for their family.”

Bend wedding planner Melissa Vandenbroucke said it’s a debate pitting religious freedom against civil liberties. And while she said she happily serves gay clients, it’s still tough to take sides.

“I felt torn,” Vandenbroucke said. “I felt like I understood why they’re bringing this initiative to the ballot, but I understand too that we’re in business to do business and to not discriminate.”

Others, like baker Nichol Hayden-Cady say, religion shouldn’t dictate business.

“It’s scary, because we’re supposed to be going forward, not back,” Hayden-Cady said. “If you have a business, I feel like you should be able to serve everyone.”

The Protect Religious Freedom initiative is before the Oregon Supreme Court while judges work on language for its ballot title

Lindsay said the group expects begins collecting ballot signatures in May.

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