Gay Rights Groups Denounce Okla. Bills as Anti-Gay
Gay rights supporters say Oklahoma is at the forefront of a wave of anti-gay legislation that is unfairly discriminatory and they plan to launch a campaign to oppose more than a dozen bills introduced for the session that begins next week.
Some measures would give broad authority to businesses and corporations to discriminate against gay people. Others would ensure court clerks wouldn't have to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Another would allow for so-called conversion therapy to help gay children end "unwanted sexual attraction."
The state's two largest gay rights groups announced a merger this week into a single group- Freedom Oklahoma - and its new director, Troy Stevenson, described some of the Republican-backed bills as the most far-reaching in the nation and vowed to campaign against them.
"The two we're most concerned about is this really broad license to discriminate and the affirmation of conversion therapy. It's the first time either of those has ever been tried in the country," said Stevenson, who headed a similar group in New Jersey.
Both bills are authored by state Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, who made national headlines in 2008 when she said homosexuality posed a greater threat to the United States than terrorism.
Gov. Mary Fallin and House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman declined to comment on specific bills ahead of the session that starts Monday.
But Hickman, R-Fairview, said examining the state's role in issuing marriage licenses is one that has been discussed before.
"We've had legislation out here for a couple of years looking at whether government should be involved in marriages," Hickman said. "Should that be something you do through government ... or is that something that should be between two people and their church?
"That's been an ongoing discussion, and I think that discussion will continue."
Under current Oklahoma law, marriage licenses are issued by a judge or court clerk, but state Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, would change that with a bill to eliminate licensing altogether. Individuals who want to marry would simply file an affidavit of the marriage with the county clerk.
Russ said his bill wouldn't prevent gay marriages, but would protect judges or court clerks from violating their personal religious beliefs by certifying one.
"I'm just trying to make it fair for the people who want to maintain their spiritual convictions and their conscience just as much as the gay society wants respect and consideration for their way of life," said Russ, a longtime banker.
The Oklahoma Republican Party platform states that "homosexuality is not a genetic trait, but a chosen lifestyle," and GOP Chairman Dave Weston said the platform reflects the views of a majority of the party's members.
He also noted a 2004 referendum prohibiting gay marriages in Oklahoma received 76 percent of the vote.