Eight Ways Oklahoma Lawmakers are Attacking LGBT People and Their Families

by Stephen Peters

Two of the nation’s top LGBT civil rights organizations join Oklahoma’s state equality organization to strongly condemn eight appallingly vicious bills attacking LGBT people and their families

OKLAHOMA CITY – Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), and Freedom Oklahoma strongly condemned eight shocking anti-equality bills filed in the Oklahoma legislature. Submitted moments before the filing deadline, these appalling bills viciously target LGBT families and young people across the state.

The harmful bills include: 1. an extremely dangerous pro-conversion “therapy” bill; 2. a bill giving businesses a broad and vague license to discriminate against LGBT people; 3. two bills providing special discrimination rights based on religious preference; and 4. four bills attacking marriage equality. 

Representatives from HRC, NCLR, and Freedom Oklahoma issued the following statements strongly condemning the bills:

HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse: “These bills are nothing more than despicably vile direct attacks on LGBT Oklahomans and their families. It’s astounding that extreme anti-equality politicians are making such drastic attempts to harm LGBT families. We call on all fair-minded Oklahomans to stand up for equality and help stop these horrific bills.”

NCLR Staff Attorney and #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator Samantha Ames added: “The proposed bill to legalize the deadly practice of conversion therapy on LGBT children is shockingly irresponsible. All children deserve to be loved, accepted, and supported by their communities. Every day, we work with parents and families who deeply regret harming their children by trying to force them to change who they are. This horrifying bill is a wake-up call for Oklahoma and the entire country. There is no place in our communities for these dangerous practices, which have been condemned by every major medical and mental health association in the country.”

Freedom Oklahoma Executive Director Troy Stevenson said: “Our community is under attack, and we are fighting back. We won marriage last year, and in retaliation, a tiny handful of lawmakers have lashed out at us with an unprecedented amount of discriminatory legislation. Freedom Oklahoma – along with our local and national partners – will not rest until all of these bills are defeated. Together we are bigger. Together we are stronger. And together we will win!”

The eight anti-equality bills targeting LGBT families and young people are:

1. Extremely Dangerous Pro-Conversion “Therapy” Bill

The misleadingly named “Freedom to Obtain Conversion Therapy Act,” filed by Republican State Representative Sally Kern, is an attempt to legitimize and provide special state protection to a dangerous and discredited practice that has been denounced by every major medical and mental health association in the country, including the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association.

HRC Senior Legislative Counsel Alison Gill said: “So-called conversion ‘therapy’ uses fear and shame, telling young people that the only way to find love or acceptance is to change the very nature of who they are. Psychological abuse has no place in therapy, no matter the intention, and for Oklahoma State Rep Kern to introduce this bill, using her stature to tell young people that who they are is bad or wrong, is both immoral and seriously harmful.”

“Conversion therapy,” sometimes referred to as “reparative therapy” or “sexual orientation change efforts,” is a range of dangerous and discredited practices aimed at changing one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.  These harmful practices are based on the false claim that being LGBT is a mental illness that can and should be cured. Unfortunately, young LGBT people are particularly vulnerable to being coerced into to these harmful practices, which can result in negative outcomes such as depression, substance abuse, and suicidality.

HRC and NCLR have partnered with state equality groups to pass state legislation to end this dangerous pseudoscience, including laws passed in California, New Jersey, and the District of Columbia. In August of 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld California’s ban which was signed into law by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown in 2012. In September of this year, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld New Jersey’s ban which was signed into law by Republican Governor Chris Christie in August of 2013. NCLR attorneys have assisted in the defense of every state bill to date.

More information on the lies and dangers of efforts to change sexual orientation or gender identity can be found at www.NCLRights.org/BornPerfect.

2. Special License to Businesses to Discriminate Against LGBT People

House Bill 1597, also filed by State Representative Kern, is similar to Arizona’s widely criticized and defeated “Turn Away the Gays” bill and provides a special government-sanctioned license for businesses to discriminate against LGBT people. The bill says businesses may discriminate by not providing “any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges related to any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person, group or association.” Additionally, it protects those who discriminate against LGBT people from any civil or criminal fines. 

3. Special Discrimination Rights Based on Religious Preference

Although these bills are framed as religious protection bills, the misleadingly named “Oklahoma Religious Freedom Reformation Act of 2015” and the “Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act” actually provide special discrimination rights based on religious preferences. Introduced by Republican Oklahoma State Senator Joseph Silk and Representative Chuck Strohm, these extreme bills go far beyond the religious protections already in Oklahoma’s laws to undermine basic fairness for LGBT people.

4. Bills Attacking Marriage Equality

House Bill 1599, called the “Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act”, was filed by State Representative Kern and takes direct aim at stopping marriage equality in the state, saying: “No employee of this state and no employee of any local governmental entity shall officially recognize, grant or enforce a same-sex marriage license and continue to receive a salary, pension or other employee benefit at the expense of taxpayers of this state. No taxes or public funds of this state shall be spent enforcing any court order requiring the issuance or recognition of a same-sex marriage license.” Additionally the bill requires courts to dismiss “any challenge to any portion” of the bill.

Senate Bill 478, titled the “Protection of Religious Freedom in Sanctity of Marriage Act of 2015”, was filed by State Senator Corey Brooks, provides a broad carve out, allow individuals and religious organizations to refuse to “provide any services, accommodations, [or] facilities,” solemnize, or even recognize any marriage or civil union based on their “sincerely held beliefs religious beliefs… regarding sex or gender.”

House Bill 1125, introduced by State Representative Todd Russ, seeks to do away with marriage licenses altogether rather than recognize legal same-sex marriages in Oklahoma. Instead, the court clerks would simply file marriage certificates that recognize common law marriages or marriage ceremonies.

Finally, House Bill 2215, introduced by State Representative Mike Ritze, seeks to stigmatize and undermine marriage equality for transgender people by requiring them to be listed as transgender on any marriage application and any marriage license received.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. HRC envisions a world where LGBT people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, legislation, policy, and public education.

Freedom Oklahoma is Oklahoma's statewide LGBT advocacy organization and a proud member of the Equality Federation. Freedom Oklahoma is the unified organization resulting from the merger of The Equality Network, a 501(c)4 organization that lobbies for pro-equality legislation and public policies; and the Cimarron Alliance Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization that engaged in public education in support of the LGBT community. 


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