A gay and lesbian rights group started a million-dollar advertising campaign Monday with an ad in a national newspaper saying Oklahoma is "going out of business" because of its proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Cimarron Equality Oklahoma said in a news release that by effectively telling gays they are not welcome in the state, Oklahoma would also drive away economic development. "Studies show that a state's level of tolerance for its gay and lesbian citizens directly impacts its success in attracting the talented people and creative atmosphere essential for economic growth in today's competitive marketplace," the group said in its ad, which took up nearly half a page in the Money section of USA Today.
The state house voted 92-4 on April 22 to send to voters a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as only the union of one man and one woman. Under the proposal, same-sex marriages performed in other states would not be recognized in Oklahoma, and knowingly issuing a marriage license to gay couples would be a misdemeanor. Oklahoma already outlaws same-sex marriages in statutes but not in its constitution. Sen. James Williamson (R-Tulsa), who wrote the proposed amendment, called the ad campaign "outrageous.... There is a real hunger for a return to traditional values and for leaders who will draw a line in the sand to help stop the moral decay of this country. I believe Oklahoma's efforts to protect traditional marriage will help us attract new jobs and businesses." He predicted the campaign would backfire. "The vast majority of Americans would support our efforts to protect the traditional concept of marriage, and so, indirectly, I think the ad may be beneficial to Oklahoma," Williamson said.
The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce also took issue with the campaign. "The growth of the environment is important to all Oklahomans, and discouraging businesses from considering our state is in no one's best interest," Cynthia Reid, chamber vice president of marketing and communications, said in a statement. The USA Today ad showed an outline of Oklahoma with "Closed" stamped over it. "Companies thinking of relocating to or doing business in Oklahoma should look hard at Oklahoma's worsening culture of intolerant exclusion and its resulting brain and talent drain," the ad said. Cimarron Equality Oklahoma hopes to convince residents to vote down the proposed amendment in the November general election. "We believe this constitutional amendment is antifamily, antibusiness, and simply wrong," said Terry Gatewood of Cimarron Equality.