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Op-ed: Oklahoma's Multiple Anti-LGBT Bills Are Unacceptable

Op-ed: Oklahoma's Multiple Anti-LGBT Bills Are Unacceptable


LGBT Oklahomans may be use to being hassled by right-wing lawmakers, but this time they've gone too far.

LGBT Oklahomans are not unfamiliar with being attacked by our state lawmakers. It happens about once a year, at the beginning of the legislative session each February. But legislation proposed in past years pales in comparison to the onslaught unleashed at the state capitol in Oklahoma City last week in advance of this year's session. More than a dirty dozen anti-LGBT House and Senate proposals were announced.

What did LGBT Oklahomans do to deserve this unprecedented vitriol? Did we engage in criminal activity, such as tearing down government structures, burning churches, assaulting innocent heterosexuals in the streets, or kidnapping children and indoctrinating them with the "gay agenda"?

No. We won the right to marry. After a 10-year legal battle that came to a screeching halt October 6, when the U.S. Supreme Court denied review to seven same-sex marriage cases from five states, including Oklahoma, we contemptible rainbow-wearers in the reddest of the red states had the audacity to wed.

Clearly, the normal amount of hate-mongering simply would not do. We needed to be put back in our place of second-class citizenship, and the lawmakers of Oklahoma -- at least those in the overwhelmingly Republican majority -- responded with gusto.

Three measures, collectively, would allow any business person to refuse to serve LGBT people; allow clergy members to refuse to marry us; allow religious entities to refuse to hire us or serve us in any capacity; and allow government officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses or solemnize marriages. One bill additionally would ban lawsuits or disciplinary action against anyone refusing to serve us.

One measure would eliminate all marriage licenses in the state and strip court clerks of the responsibility and funding to issue them. Marriage "certificates" would come only from clergy members, and the state would simply record those certificates. Two other bills would ban public funding for and public employees from any form of recognition of same-sex marriages.

Three Senate proposals would limit marriage in the state to opposite-sex couples, despite rulings from an Oklahoma federal district judge and a 10th Circuit appellate judge panel that such limitation is unconstitutional as well as the Supreme Court's refusal to overturn those rulings. One bill at least attempts a loophole by renaming marriages as "covenants" and limiting those to heterosexual couples.

One measure would require transgender individuals to declare their transition on their marriage license, lest some unsuspecting straight person be tricked into marrying someone who "really" is of the same gender.

One proposal would affirm parents' existing right to subject their children to conversion therapy and would forbid the state from intervening. It would also allow a therapist to attempt to change a child's sexual orientation.

At least a half-dozen "shell bills" -- measures whose content has yet to be determined -- involve "preserving marriage," their titles indicate.

A plurality of these measures are sponsored by Rep. Sally Kern, an unfortunate household name across much of the country because of her notorious homophobic rants. It was Kern who infamously said that homosexuality is "the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam."

But in the Oklahoma legislature, Kern doesn't have a monopoly on bigotry. There's more than enough hate to go around.

Don Holladay, the lead attorney for the Oklahoma marriage equality lawsuit, writes that arguing Bishop v. Smith said to this state and all Oklahomans that under the Constitution of the United States that all people have equal access to the fundamental right to marry the person of their choice and to remain married.

"The Constitution of the United States is the highest law of this land," he added. "Each member of the Oklahoma Legislature took an oath and publicly swore to support, obey and defend that Constitution and the rights and liberties granted to the citizens of our nation. When a member of the House of Representatives introduces legislation attempting to nullify a person's rights under the Constitution, she is mocking her oath of office, the promise she made, and the government she serves. That is irresponsible. And that is unacceptable."

We Oklahomans -- the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender ones as well as the straight progressive ones -- are not OK with irresponsible, mocking behavior from our lawmakers. We are furious that their response to the courts that gave us a small measure of equality is "We don't play by your rules." As U.S. citizens -- and especially with regard to the oaths they've taken as lawmakers -- they did, indeed, agree to follow the law! What part of civics class did they miss? The courts aren't "making new laws" when they rule that attempts to legalize discrimination are unconstitutional; they're fulfilling the duty ascribed to them as the third branch of our government.

Toby Jenkins, the executive director of Oklahomans for Equality, said that "for two decades, legislators have used the LGBT community as brush and kindling to build and stoke a pep-rally bonfire for religious fundamentalists pushing the harshest and cruelest political agenda. While they claim to speak for the family and liberty, they raise money and ramp up their base by attacking the gay community, characterizing their neighbors as evil threats, all the while stripping funding for health care, education, children's services, military families and veterans, and vital community services."

Jenkins rightly calls this "a fight for our lives to prevent legislation that makes it legal to discriminate."

So here's the plan for the lawmakers who hate us so much: Get out. We'll stay here and make Oklahoma the great state we all know it can be. For decades, you've told us that we should leave because we don't share Oklahomans' values, but if we've learned anything since the courts ruled in our favor on the marriage equality issue, it's that you all are the ones who are out of step with Oklahoma values.

Oklahoma lawmakers should expect to continue to see their feeble attempts at legislating hate overruled by the courts. They should expect to continue to see LGBT Oklahomans and our allies fight back against inequality and injustice. And they should expect to start losing at the ballot box, because we're gaining. And we're not going anywhere.

SHARON BISHOP-BALDWIN, who serves on the advisory board of Oklahomans for Equality, and her wife, Mary Bishop-Baldwin, were the lead plaintiffs in Oklahoma's marriage equality lawsuit.

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