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LGBT Advocacy Groups Merge, Promise To Fight ‘Hate-Filled’ Legislation

Jan 26, 2015

The Freedom Oklahoma press conference on January 26, 2015.
Credit Freedom Oklahoma / Facebook

Two of Oklahoma’s most prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy groups announced Monday they are merging to form a united voice to fight what they called a number of “hate-filled” measures pre-filed for the 2015 session.

“The LGBT community of Oklahoma is under attack and we’re here to tell you we plan on fighting back, Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, said during a Capitol press conference Monday.

Freedom Oklahoma brings together The Equality Network, a Tulsa-based LGBT political advocacy organization, and the Cimarron Alliance Foundation, the Oklahoma City-based LGBT public education organization.

Stevenson said the group will hold town hall meetings across the state and deploy citizen lobbyists to address issues of concern. “We will be here. We will be present. We will make sure legislators that know: If you’re going to legislative against our rights, you are going to have to do it while you look us in the eye,” Stevenson said.

“A handful of vitriolic Oklahoma legislators, which do not represent the entire Legislature and they do not represent the state of Oklahoma, have put 10 hate-filled bills before this body,” said Stevenson.

A press release from Freedom Oklahoma outlined the proposed legislation the organization will work against. A summary of their targeted legislative bills filed includes:

The “Freedom to Obtain Conversion Therapy Act,” filed by Republican State Representative Sally Kern, wants to provide state protection to practices that has been denounced by the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association. “Conversion therapy,” sometimes referred to as “reparative therapy” or “sexual orientation change efforts,” is a range of practices aimed at changing one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. In August of 2013, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld California’s ban (of these “practices”). In September of this year, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld New Jersey’s ban (on these “practices”).

House Bill 1597, also filed by State Representative Kern, is similar to Arizona’s defeated “Turn Away the Gays” bill and provides a 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.

Framed as religious protection bills, the “Oklahoma Religious Freedom Reformation Act of 2015” and the “Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act” provide special discrimination rights based on religious preferences. Introduced by Republican Oklahoma State Senator Joseph Silk and Representative Chuck Strohm, these bills go beyond the religious protections already in Oklahoma’s laws.

House Bill 1599, called the “Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act,”  filed by State Representative Kern, aims 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”, filed by State Senator Corey Brooks, allows 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.

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