Oklahoma is currently one of the most conservative states to have marriage equality (Alabama just got a two-week delay in holding that title). Same-sex couples are carefully beginning to exercise their new right, like Tracy Curtis and Kathryn Frazier, whose anxiety over every wedding invitation was thoughtfully profiled by the Washington Post this weekend. But conservative lawmakers have expressed their interest in circumventing that freedom to marry in several creative ways.
State Rep. Sally Kern (R) is leading that charge. She infamously insists that homosexuality is “more dangerous” than terrorism, and has attempted to make a martyr of herself over the backlash for saying so. Last week, she filed three separate bills designed to circumvent equality for the LGBT community by either licensing discrimination or outright promoting harm.
Her first bill, HB 1597, specifically empowers businesses to refuse service to the LGBT community. Unlike the slew of bills in other states that use “religious freedom” language to create a carve-out for anti-LGBT discrimination, Kern’s bill explicitly identifies LGBT people: “No business entity shall be required to provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges related to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, group or association.” This bill may be the most blatant “license to discriminate” of any legislation recently proffered by conservative lawmakers across the country.
While several states are considering following the lead of California and New Jersey in banning ex-gay therapy for minors — so that the harmful, ineffective treatment cannot be forced upon them by unaccepting parents — Kern takes the opposite approach. HB 1598 would create the “Freedom to Obtain Conversion Therapy Act,” insisting, “The people of this state have the right to seek and obtain counseling or conversion therapy from a mental health provider in order to control or end any unwanted sexual attraction, and no state agency shall infringe upon that right.” This includes minors, as the bill specifically empowers parents to obtain ex-gay therapy for their children “without interference by the state.”
Lastly, Kern wants to try to prevent couples like Tracy and Kathryn from getting married even though federal courts have guaranteed them that right. Her third bill, HB 1599 (the so-called “Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act”), borrows directly from similar legislation proposed in Texas to prevent government employees from receiving a salary if they issue a same-sex marriage license. “No taxpayer funds or governmental salaries shall be paid for any activity that includes the licensing or support of same-sex marriage,” the bill declares. Not only would clerks lose their salary, pension, and benefits, but any judge who issued a same-sex marriage license “shall be removed from office.”
Kern is not alone in trying to block marriage equality at the clerk level. State Rep. Todd Russ (R) has proposed a bill (HB 1125) that would no longer allow clerks or judges to even officiate marriages anymore. If couples do not have a formal ceremony with a religious leader, they would have to file an affidavit of common law marriage instead, and they would never actually receive a marriage certificate. Russ, himself a credentialed Assemblies of God minister, told The Oklahoman that though he joins many Oklahomans in opposing same-sex marriage, “the Supreme Court stuck it down our throats,” but “marriage[s] are not supposed to be a government thing anyway.”
It’s unclear whether lawmakers are willing to get behind these bills that clearly target the LGBT community for harm, discrimination, and unequal access to government services, nor whether they would be upheld in a federal court. Republicans do enjoy supermajorities in both the Oklahoma House and Senate, so passage cannot be ruled out.