Oklahoma’s state legislature has thousands of bills on its schedule for the 2017 legislative session that began February 6. With so many possible bills to look at, it’s easy to miss even highly controversial bills. SB 197 (the Right of Conscience Act), SB 530 and HB 1507 target LGBT people, creating divisive issues for a state torn between LGBT rights and a strong preference for religious liberties.
Last year, the legislature proposed more than 25 anti-LGBT bills. None of them passed, but these kinds of pointed bills don’t seem to be going away.
The Right of Conscience Act, or State Bill 197, was proposed by Republican state senator Joseph Silk. The bill proposes that individuals (here meaning people or businesses) can refuse to provide services that promote or contribute to “lifestyles” that conflict with the individual’s “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The bill specifically mentions services linked to marriages that involve lifestyle is that are against the service provider’s religion. Purchasing services can, I assume, be misconstrued as forcing the service provider to support people who pursue different goals than them.
While this bill’s language does lend itself to anti-LGBT sentiment, it could also impact people from other (presumably non-Christian) religions and other marginalized groups that could be argued to be against people’s religious beliefs.
State Bill 530 is a broadening of the 2015 state bill, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), and was introduced by Republican State Senator Josh Brecheen. RFRA protected religious freedoms by stating that people could not be forced or pressured to act against their religious interests. If passed, SB 530 would clarify and expand upon RFRA; it would protect people from “substantial burdens” to their religious beliefs and the practice of those beliefs.
The government cannot force people to act against their religious beliefs unless it can prove that the service or action required of the individual is both necessary to the state and also the best way to achieve the state’s desired result. Again, this bill does not explicitly mention the LGBT community, and could also impact religions that are not the one practiced by an individual. However, in recent times, the main argument in favor of bills like this one is that they protect people who do not want to serve LGBT customers.
House Bill 1507 is a bill that permits any “private child-placing agency to refuse participation in any placement that violated written religious convictions or policies of the agency.” It was proposed by another Republican, State Representative Chuck Strohm.
The bill goes on to include a clause that would prohibit the adoption agencies from losing their licenses or other punishments from the state should they uphold their religious beliefs with regards to their adoption policies and child placement. Many religious doctrines do not support LGBT families, and a bill like this could ensure that even less children are adopted into happy, if not heterosexual, homes.
These bills might come from a place of love, but they effectively increase the potential for discrimination in practice. A wedding cake is a wedding cake, and I don’t believe that every baker that bakes a cake for a straight couple believes that every couple will stay together forever. The argument that divorce was long considered a sin in the Christian tradition does not seem to deter bakers from selling their cakes to people who might eventually act in opposition to the baker’s beliefs.
Selling a cake to two women, however, seems to be a pressing concern. The above-mentioned bills, and their counterparts hidden in the mountains of legislature proposed for the 2017 legislative session, impact not just LGBT people but the people they care about as well. In the face of increased discrimination, it seems more important to not normalize anti-LGBT laws and sentiments.
Tulsa’s state legislators are Republican state senator Gary M. Stanislawski and Democratic state representative Monroe Nichols. The best way to push back against (or support) bills like this are to call or email the representatives’ offices and ask about promoting or discouraging the passing of specific bills or initiatives. Email can be a particularly useful tool for sharing personal stories that might change legislators’ or their colleagues’ minds.
Calls can be helpful in obtaining information quickly and giving feedback with minimal time or effort. Just because similar bills have not been passed in the past does not mean that they do not stand a chance of being passed in this legislative session. The best possible way to prevent these bills is to urge your state congress people to vote no on them.