OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Gay rights advocates in Oklahoma called Tuesday for Republican leaders to repudiate more than two dozen bills they say unfairly target members of the LGBT community for discrimination.
Eighteen such bills remain active from last year, while another nine were filed ahead of the 2016 session that Troy Stevenson, director of gay rights group Freedom Oklahoma, says discriminate against the constitutional rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Stevenson said there tend to be a handful of Oklahoma legislators each year who push anti-gay bills rather than focus on more pressing state problems.
“They would rather talk about how to harm a community, how to tell us that members of our community are not allowed to use a public restroom, or to tell us that business owners should be allowed to exclude us from their businesses,” Stevenson said.
Among the new bills Stevenson highlighted is one by Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, that would cut off state funding to schools that allow students of one gender to use restrooms or changing rooms designated for the opposite gender.
Others dubbed “religious freedom” measures would protect people 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 isn’t anti-gay and that his bill would not infringe on a gay couple’s right to marry. But he said he felt obligated to propose an amendment to protect a narrowly defined class of people from being forced to actively recognize or participate in a gay marriage if it violates their religious beliefs.
“I wish I didn’t even have to file the bill,” McCullough said. “I understand the unwanted attention it will draw. I do not in any way savor that.”
Rep. Sally Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican who made headlines in 2008 when she said homosexuals pose a greater threat to the country than terrorism, is the primary author of several measures targeted by the state’s gay rights groups. Among them is a bill to prohibit school counselors from providing students with information on human sexuality without first notifying the student’s parents.
“The primary motivation is who’s responsible for these children – the schools or the parent? That’s the primary purpose of this bill. If that flusters the homosexuals, I’m sorry,” Kern said. “The issue is not discrimination, but who’s in charge of those kids.
A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin said her staff is still reviewing hundreds of bills that have been filed for the session that begins Feb. 1.
“The governor generally withholds commenting on bills until she and her staff have had a chance to review the final version approved by lawmakers,” Fallin spokesman Michael McNutt said.
None of the anti-gay legislation targeted by Freedom Oklahoma in 2015 advanced to the governor’s desk, but most still could be considered in the coming session.
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