The Oregon Family Council, an antigay group connected with a “license to discriminate” ballot measure in the state, is receiving criticism after one of its leaders invoked neo-Nazis in an analogy when discussing whether businesses should have to provide services for same-sex weddings.
“Would you expect a Jewish bakery to serve a neo-Nazi who wanted a cake with a swastika on it?” Teresa Harke, a spokeswoman for the council and a related group, Friends of Religious Freedom, said in an interview with Portland’s Oregonian newspaper last week.
Oregon Jewish leaders responded angrily this week, with rabbis and heads of organizations signing a letter that called Harke’s comment an “insult to the memory of those who perished” in the Holocaust and said the antigay groups were using “one of history’s greatest atrocities to forward your political agenda,” the Oregonian reports.
“It really is using an illustration that is so offensive,” Rabbi Michael Cahana of Congregation Beth Israel in Portland, who wrote the letter, said in an interview with the Oregonian Monday. “Here you’re making a comparison between a hate group that supports the elimination of Jews in the world and a couple that wants to sanctify their marriage.”
Oregon Family Council president Jack Louman defended Harke, saying her comments “were made in the context of an example of rights of individual conscience.” He added, “The example was not meant to offend you or anyone else and as such will not be used in the future. We deeply respect the Jewish community in Oregon and it was not our intention to be offensive.”
The council is leading the opposition to marriage equality in the state; the LGBT group Basic Rights Oregon hopes to qualify a measure allowing same-sex marriage for the ballot in next year’s election. Meanwhile, Friends of Religious Freedom has formed in hopes of qualifying a measure for the ballot that would let businesses whose owners have religious objections to marriage equality refuse to serve same-sex weddings without running afoul of state antidiscrimination laws. The push for the latter initiative grew partly out of a case in which a bakery refused to provide a cake for a lesbian couple’s wedding, leading the women to file a complaint with state officials.