Why Are Oklahoma Lawmakers Trying So Hard to Discriminate Against LGBTs?

A slew of anti-gay bills just cropped up in the Sooner State’s legislature.

Sharon and Mary Bishop-Baldwin on their wedding day.Sharon Bishop-Baldwin

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Sharon Bishop-Baldwin, a plaintiff in the case that challenged and defeated Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban, married her wife in October of last year, just hours after the Supreme Court refused to hear the state’s appeal. “It is a great day to be gay in Oklahoma. It’s an even better day to be married,” she told the Dallas Morning News. One would think that the story would end there.

“Our lawmakers didn’t miss any tricks.”

But soon afterwards, Bishop-Baldwin, an advisor at Oklahomans for Equality, encountered some potential setbacks: A slew of bills introduced since the beginning of 2015 aimed at making it easy for businesses to opt out of serving gay couples and more difficult for gay couples to get married. Other states, including Arkansas, Arizona, and Colorado, have introduced similar pieces of legislation—perhaps fueled by the Supreme Court’s announcement that it would decide the legality of gay marriage in all 50 states in April.

Oklahoma has been a hub for this push, with at least 12 anti-LGBT bills introduced since the beginning of the year. “We have all of them—our lawmakers didn’t miss any tricks,” says Bishop-Baldwin. “We are as upset by the animus behind the bills as we are by the content of them.”

Fortunately for Bishop-Baldwin and other gay advocates, the most controversial bills weren’t heard—meaning they were effectively killed—during the last day of the state’s legislative session yesterday. Some of the anti-LGBT bills, however, remain on the table.

Here’s a sample of the most contentious legislation:

  • Killed: House Bill 1599 would have prohibited public funding of any activity supporting same-sex marriage, likely leading to a confrontation between state and federal authorities.
  • KilledHouse Bill 1598 would have protected a parent’s right to bring a child to “conversion therapy” that aims to eliminate same-sex attraction.
  • Killed: House Bill 1371 would have allowed small businesses, like florists, bakers, or photographers, to refuse to provide wedding services if the business owner disagrees with the wedding on religious grounds.
  • ApprovedHouse Bill 1125 does away with marriage licenses altogether—for straight and gay couples—instead requiring marriage officiants to file “certificates of marriage” after the fact. Rep. Todd Russ, who introduced the bill, said its purpose is to “protect” county clerks from being forced to issue licenses to same-sex couples. The bill now goes to the senate.
  • ApprovedSenate Bill 788 and House Bill 1007 allow clergy to refuse to solemnize a marriage that violates their religious belief. Critics point out that federal law already grants clergy this right. The bills now go to the house and senate, respectively.

With the death of the most extreme bills on Thursday, LGBT advocates have declared a modest victory. When I spoke with Bishop-Baldwin on the phone after the legislative session ended yesterday, she said, a little sardonically: “It is a great day in Oklahoma.” She paused and sighed, adding, “It’s a shame in Oklahoma that we have to fight this kind of crap.”

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