Two-term Congressman James Lankford (R-OK), who has consistently opposed all legal protections for LGBT Americans because he believes sexual orientation is a “choice,” announced Monday that he will run for U.S. Senate this November. His will run in a special election for the final two years of the unexpired term of Sen. Tom Coburn (R), who is resigning at the end of 2014.
Lankford, a former program director of a Christian youth camp who holds a Master of Divinity degree from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was first elected to Congress in 2010. Over his time in public life, he has made his opposition to LGBT equality a top priority:
He opposed employment protections for people who “choose” to be gay. In May 2012, ThinkProgress asked Lankford whether he believed it should be legal to fire someone based solely on his or her sexual orientation. He responded that LGBT workers should not be protected from workplace discrimination because it’s something they can change, saying, “I think it’s a choice issue.” After the interview generated national attention, Lankford told a local TV station that ThinkProgress misrepresented his views, but then reiterated exactly the same position. He claimed that he was likely being singled out for being a Christian.
He vowed to humiliate a mental health and substance abuse agency for helping LGBT people with substance abuse issues. At a January 2013 town hall event, Lankford took a question from Republican Oklahoma state Rep. Sally Kern. The state legislator, who once claimed homosexuality is “more dangerous” than terrorist attacks, asked Lankford to examine a publication by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration called “A Provider’s Introduction to Substance Abuse Treatment for Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Transgender Individuals,” which she called “indoctrination or pushing the homosexual agenda.” Though the guide has been an effective resource for some of the unique factors that can impact LGBT youth’s usage of drugs or alcohol, such as bullying and family rejection, Lankford vowed to investigative. He told Kern: “Some of those things you have the power of humiliation where you can raise it and put in sunlight. They love functioning in the dark. You put some sunlight on it, that does help.”
He raised campaign funds by highlighting his opposition to hate-crimes protections. In his initial House campaign, Lankford sent out a December 2009 fundraising appeal, months after President Obama signed the bill adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of federal hate crimes protections. Lankford mocked and misrepresented the law, warning potential donors: “Right now churches are trying to discern how the new ‘hate crimes’ legislation affects their teaching of the Bible.” In reality, hate crimes charges can only be added to criminal charges and do not in any way impede the rights of religions to teach their faith as they see fit.
He defended a state constitutional amendment to “protect” marriage, despite Oklahoma’s sky-high divorce rates. Nearly a decade ago, Oklahoma enacted a marriage inequality amendment, which proponents claimed was about “protecting traditional marriage. The amendment prevented same-sex families from obtaining the protections of marriage that Lankford once called the “cultural thing that pulls us all together” and the “best thing that can be done to pull families out of poverty.” It did not, however, bring much protection to marriage in Oklahoma; divorce rates in the state rank in the top-five nationally. Still, after a federal judge ruled last week that the state’s same-sex marriage ban violates the U.S. constitution, Lankford blasted the decision, claiming “marriage is a state issue and Oklahoma has spoken.”
He has backed three contradictory approaches to blocking marriage equality nationally. As a candidate in 2010, Lankford praised the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and opined that marriage “should be defended as an institution between one man and one woman.” After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA last year, Lankford blasted the ruling and signed on as a co-sponsor of three measures aimed at restoring anti-LGBT discrimination. One bill, the “State Marriage Defense Act,” would make it so that married couples who enter a state that doesn’t recognize their marriage would also lose their federal benefits. Despite Lankford’s stated view that marriage is “a state issue,” he also is a backer of the “Marriage and Religious Freedom Act” (which would give anti-LGBT people a license to ignore the legal marriages of same-sex couples even when recognized in their state) and a federal constitutional amendment to restrict marriage nationally to only oppose-sex couples.
He defended the rights of businesses to be anti-LGBT — not but not pro-equality. In 2012, Lankford posted a colleague’s defense of anti-LGBT Chick-fil-A on his Facebook wall. Lankford celebrated the company’s demonstration of the “freedom American private businesses” have to “make their own decisions.” But this belief in corporate freedom did not extend to pro-LGBT actions. When A&E briefly suspended Phil Robertson from its Duck Dynasty program, following his homophobic and racist comments, Lankford blasted the network, writing, “A senior adult man in America should be able to speak his views without fear of being silenced.”
In his Senate announcement video, Lankford said, “I believe that conservative solutions can help families of every race, every economic background, and every town in Oklahoma.” But his record suggests that that does not include the thousands of same-sex families he hopes to represent.