OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Gay rights advocates in Oklahoma on Monday celebrated the demise of more than two dozen bills in the Oklahoma Legislature this year that they say unfairly discriminate against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
All 27 bills that were targeted as discriminatory against the constitutional rights of LGBT people failed to advance after a key deadline passed last week, said Troy Stevens, director of the gay rights group Freedom Oklahoma.
“I just don’t think there’s a will to hear this kind of legislation from either party,” Stevens said. “There are about five legislators who want to keep running this stuff, but most of them see it for the distraction that it is.”
Among the bills Stevenson highlighted is one by Sen. Joseph Silk, R-Broken Bow, that would require people to use bathrooms corresponding with their biological sex, which Stevenson said unfairly targets transgender people.
“I’ve got daughters,” Silk said. “I don’t want to send them into the bathroom at the mall and there could some 200-pound man in there.”
Other bills dubbed “religious freedom” measures would protect business owners from discriminating against gay people if one had a “sincerely held religious belief,” similar to those passed last year in Indiana and Arkansas. A bill by state Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, would seek a public vote on whether to amend the Oklahoma Constitution to ensure such protections.
McCullough said he was surprised at the lack of vocal support for his bill from religious leaders.
“I did not receive one email, phone call or letter of support at all from anyone in the faith community,” McCullough said. “If you were the speaker of the House and the largest evangelical denomination in Oklahoma never made a peep about this … would you run these bills?”
Silk, who introduced two bills on Freedom Oklahoma’s list, acknowledged the issues are likely dead for the session, but that he intends to introduce similar bills next session.
Stevenson credited an “unprecedented level of community advocacy” this session, with gay rights supporters visiting the Capitol, making phone calls and sending emails encouraging their legislators not to support the bills.
A GOP-led Senate panel also sent a signal early in the session when three Republicans joined with two Democrats to defeat one of Silk’s bills dubbed the “Oklahoma Right of Conscience Act” that would have allowed Oklahoma businesses to discriminate against gay people.