Aug Sept 2016
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Four Anti-LGBT Bills Aim to Roll Back Progress in Oklahoma

Four Anti-LGBT Bills Aim to Roll Back Progress in Oklahoma

Oklahoma state legislators are introducing several bills in an effort to reverse the progress LGBT people have made by blocking marriage equality, ensuring "freedom" to discriminate, and protecting the use of conversion therapy.

Known anti-LGBT state representative Sally Kern has filed three bills, the Tulsa World reports, and another bill introduced by Rep. Todd Russ would remove government officials from the process of issuing marriage licenses.

Kern's HB1597 is similar to bills being considered in other states that would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers without any civil or criminal consequence. While other states have attempted to justify such discrimination in the name of religious freedom (as in Mississippi, the only state to enact such a law to date), Kern's version does not specify that the "business entity" must have religious grounds for discrimination.

HB1598, the Freedom to Obtain Conversion Therapy Act, ensures that any parent who wants their children to undergo therapy to change their sexual orientation or gender identity will have the right to do so. Kern's bill defies efforts to ban the use conversion therapy on minors, as every major psychological and medical organization in the United States has said such therapy is ineffective or harmful.

With same-sex marriage being legal in the state since October, Kern and Russ have both introduced bills to roll back or eliminate those rights for same-sex couples. Kern's third bill, HB1599, known as the Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act, would prohibit public funds going to state agencies that recognize same-sex marriages.

"No employee of this state and no employee of any local governmental entity shall officially recognize, grant or enforce a same-sex marriage license and continue to receive a salary, pension or other employee benefit at the expense of taxpayers of this state," the bill reads.

The legislation also stipulates that courts must dismiss any legal challenges to the policy, if enacted, and that any judge who challenges the law would be removed from the bench.  

Russ's bill would add a religious component to the issuance of marriage licenses for in Oklahoma. His proposed policy would require a clergy member to sign a couple's marriage certificate, which would then be filed with the county clerk, according to The Oklahoman. If no clergy member is willing to do so, the couple's union would be listed as a common-law marriage.

The purpose of Russ's bill is to protect public employees from having to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the paper reports. "Marriages are not supposed to be a government thing anyway," Russ, an Assemblies of God minister, told The Oklahoman.

Toby Jenkins of Oklahomans for Equality said at least 3,165 same-sex marriages have been documented in 23 Oklahoma counties from October to December.

“For 23 years, at least one antigay bill has been introduced every session," he told The Oklahoman. "I was so hoping 2015 would be different.”

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