The national news would have you believe that Oregon voters rejected lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights on Election Day.
Don’t believe it.
Oregon’s secretary of state race doesn’t typically warrant national headlines. But national media, reeling after blowing forecasts in the presidential election, was happy to turn attention elsewhere.
“Oregon official who shut down Christian bakery loses election” – CNN.
“Oregon official who bullied Christian bakery loses election” – Fox News.
“Oregon official who destroyed Christian bakery over gay wedding cake loses election” – The Daily Caller.
“Shut down,” “bullied,” “destroyed” – It’s fascinating how editorial slant quickly escalates.
Someone who doesn’t pay close attention to down-ballot races in the Pacific Northwest would be forgiven for believing that Oregon issued a stunning rebuke to LGBT overreach.
Indeed, that’s how Fox News reported it: “An Oregon bureaucrat who waged political jihad against the owners of a Christian bakery was given the heave-ho by voters,” their story begins.
The bakery in question entered the national zeitgeist in 2013 when the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa refused to make a cake for a lesbian couple’s wedding, citing religious objections. Democratic Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian ruled the bakery had violated the Oregon Equality Act and fined the owners $135,000. The bigoted bakers quickly became heroes of the Christian Right which raised more than half a million dollars for them.
The owners, not Avakian, closed the bakery in October.
It was but the highest-profile incidence of Avakian standing up for LGBT rights. In a case that received less national attention, he fined a Portland bar $400,000 for discriminating against a transgender women’s group.
This year, Avakian ran for secretary of state. He lost to Republican Dennis Richardson. It was the first time Oregon had elected a Republican to statewide office since 2002.
CNN’s erroneous assertion that Avakian closed the bakery notwithstanding, the basic facts of those headlines are true. Yet they are also negligently misleading.
During the campaign, the cake and the Portland bar were never serious issues. Rather, Avakian lost primarily because he planned to expand the secretary of state’s role beyond its constitutional authority. For example, he wanted to audit private companies and implement education programs.
As a result, even the progressive Willamette Week didn’t endorse him, writing, “The secretary of state is an administrator, who oversees elections, audits, the corporation division (which registers businesses) and the state archives. The secretary of state does not make or enforce laws and has nothing to do with civil rights.”
Richardson ran a smart campaign focused on the core responsibilities of the office, not social issues. That message resonated with Oregonians, at least more than Avakian’s.
Avakian will remain the labor commissioner for two more years. There was no “heave-ho.” He didn’t lose a re-election referendum on his job performance. Like Tim Kaine, he returns to his previous elected position. He still has the power to fine the next bakery that doesn’t want to make a cake for a same-sex couple.
“Oregon official who upheld the rights of same-sex couples remains on the job” apparently wasn’t an exciting enough headline.
With a healthy debate underway about how Google, Facebook and other portals handle fake news, it’s worth remembering that even CNN can run with a fake narrative.
Oregon voters didn’t reject LGBT rights. In fact, they endorsed them by becoming the first state to elect an openly LGBT governor.