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Law would put marriage powers solely in the hands of clergy
In a move aimed at curbing the seemingly inevitable progress of gay marriage, Oklahoma lawmakers just voted in favor of a bill that completely upends the way all marriages are performed in the Sooner state.
On Tuesday, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill that would do away with secular marriages in the state, leaving the power to perform wedding ceremonies and grant marriage licenses solely in the hands of religious clergy. It’s a gamble from Oklahoma’s gay-marriage opponents who are attempting to obstruct a federal appeals court ruling from last October that tossed out the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
If passed into law, House Bill 1125 would apply to anyone seeking to marry Oklahoma, not just same-sex, couples. Speaking to reporters, the bill’s author, Rep. Todd Russ, made it perfectly clear that the bill is intended to circumvent the court ruling, leaning on the right of religious institutions to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. It is a last resort for Russ and other same-sex marriage opponents after the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.
“I think Oklahoma’s at the point where we have decided we are drawing a line today and sidestepping the government’s overreach,” Russ told news station KFOR in Oklahoma City.
The House of Representatives, which is controlled overwhelmingly by Republicans, passed the measure 67-24. The bill now moves on to the state senate.
But despite the overwhelming approval of his legislative colleagues, Russ’s bill has a number of problems. Aside from its blatant attempt to undermine the federal judiciary and discriminate against same-sex couples, the bill doesn’t even seem to go after its intended target.
Because there are likely progressive clergy in Oklahoma willing to perform same-sex ceremonies, the bill seems to infringe more heavily on the marriage rights of the state’s atheists and agnostics, whose only option under the proposed law would be to pursue a common-law marriage.
“A toxic combination of anti-gay discrimination and discrimination against non-theists, the bill is emblematic of the dangerous and hateful nature of conservative Christianity in America,” writes Patheos’s Michael Stone in condemnation of HB 1125.
But according to Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, an LGBT rights advocacy group, it’s not just gays, lesbians, and atheist who are would be negatively affected. Non-governmental marriage certificates could impact the way all couples are viewed in the eyes of the law.
“This legislation puts all couples who plan to marry in Oklahoma at risk of being denied hundreds of federal legal rights and protections, if it were to become law,” Stevenson told The Oklahoman. “The federal government and other states will not be required to acknowledge these proposed ‘marriage certificates.’ This legislation will only result in mass confusion from clerks’ offices to courtrooms around the nation—while putting Oklahoma families at risk.”
This radical bill comes at a time when nationwide gay marriage seems all but certain. The Supreme Court recently heard a case regarding state gay marriage bans and is expected to broadly rule that they are unconstitutional later this year—settling the issue once and for all.
Still Oklahoma is not the only state going to extremes to try and fight inevitable progress. This month, Alabama’s Supreme Court ordered all counties to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in open defiance of a federal court ruling.
Photo via William/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Tim Sampson is a reporter who focused on the technology, business, and politics beats. He's also an established comedy writer, with work on Comedy Central and in The Onion and ClickHole.