house voted late Wednesday to withhold state funding
from local libraries that do not segregate reading material
with sexually explicit or gay themes from reading
areas for children and young adults. House members
voted 60-33 for the bill after more than two hours of
questions and debate in which opponents said the measure was
a form of censorship and an unfunded mandate that
would remove local control from library boards.
The measure, which is opposed by the Oklahoma
Library Association, now goes to the senate, where
opponents predict it will be killed. "It doesn't seem
that you can legislate morality," said Rep. Debbie
Blackburn, a Democrat from Oklahoma City.
Blackburn and other opponents said an advisory
board charged with developing an annual list of gay or
sexually explicit material that must be placed in
separate areas is the first step in an attempt to cleanse
libraries of books some people consider offensive.
"I refuse to live under the Taliban," Blackburn
said, referring to the nationalist Islamic
fundamentalist group that effectively ruled most of
Afghanistan from 1996 until 2001. "I refuse to live in Iran.
This is America."
Democratic representative Ray McCarter said it
is a parent's responsibility to decide what their
children read. McCarter also said small rural
libraries will have a hard time complying with the mandates
because their facilities are small and there is no room for
separate reading areas.
"The only place we can put the material is at
the other end of the table," McCarter said. Areas
without libraries will have to use an adults-only
trailer on the back of the Bookmobile, he said.
The measure's author, Republican representative
Sally Kern, said children deserve a period of
"protected innocence" in which they are shielded from
sexually explicit material she said is turning young people
into "sex machines."
"You can't sell toothpaste without sex," Kern
said. "The American Library Association is out to
sexualize our children."
Earlier, Kern distributed excerpts to lawmakers
from several books that contained gay or sexually
explicit language, which she said were found in
local libraries. "The average citizen does not have a clue
what is in their library," Kern said.
Republican representative Rex Duncan condemned
what he described as "secular, progressive, inclusive
librarians who are putting this garbage in front of
our kids." Added Republican representative Greg Piatt:
"I believe in society there are some things you just have to
say no to."
Opponents said the bill largely involves a
dispute between Kern and the Oklahoma City
Metropolitan Library Commission. Last year Kern asked the
commission to place the book King and King and
similar books in the adult section. She made the request
after receiving complaints from two constituents who
objected to the book's content. King and King
is a children's tale about a prince who shuns
princesses in favor of another prince.
"How many times are we going to run a state bill
to fix an Oklahoma City problem?" said Rep. Mike Wilt.
Several rural lawmakers, including Democratic
representative Larry Glenn, said they received letters
and e-mail from constituents, former teachers, and
library officials opposing the measure. "They're waiting for
the library police to come out and enforce this,"
Glenn said. (AP)