Oklahoma Republicans are fighting the legalization of marriage equality in their state with a number of bills restricting same-sex or atheist couples from being able to wed.
The Daily Oklahoman reported that, under one bill submitted by state Rep. Todd Russ (R), only “an ordained or authorized preacher or minister of the Gospel, priest or other ecclesiastical dignitary of any denomination” would be allowed to sign marriage certificates.
The measure, House Bill 1125, would bar county judges from performing weddings, and local clerks would not be allowed to issue marriage licenses. Couples are also allowed to file affadavits for common law marriages if they do not want their weddings performed by a church official. However, as KSWO-TV reported, Oklahoma does not currently recognize common law marriages.
Russ said the bill was designed to protect officials from being put in a position where they had to condone same-sex marriages.
“Oklahoma voted overwhelmingly against same-sex marriage, and yet the Supreme Court stuck it down our throats,” Russ said, referring to the high court’s decision last October not to intervene after a federal court judge struck down Question 711.
Voters approved the marriage equality ban at the polls in November 2004, but District Court Judge Terence C. Kern criticized it as being “an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit.”
The advocacy group Americans United for Separation of Church and State blasted Russ’ proposal in a statement released on Friday.
“Bills like this aren’t really about religious freedom, but about control,” the statement read. “Russ and his allies in the legislature want to legally enforce a definition of marriage that has spiritual significance to them, and they find the idea that marriage means other, equally important things to different people intolerable. State legislatures, however, don’t exist to pass doctrinal mandates.”
Tulsa World reported on Friday that Russ’ colleague, state Rep. Sally Kern (R), introduced three bills targeting same-sex couples. House Bill 1599, for example, would bar local and state employees from recognizing or granting marriage licenses to them under penalty of losing their jobs.
If it becomes law, judges who “violate” HB 1599 would be removed from office. The bill also calls for state courts to dismiss any legal challenge to the measure.
Kern also proposed a bill allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT residents while granting them immunity from civil lawsuits, and another that would let parents seek gay “conversion” therapy for their children.
The bills were instantly denounced by LGBT advocacy organizations like Oklahomans for Equality. The group’s executive director, Toby Jenkins, described Kern’s proposals as part of an “all-out assault on the LGBT citizens of Oklahoma.”
“The courts have already ruled on the legality of same-sex marriages,” Jenkins told the World. “To take our state backward a decade is obviously what our legislators are trying to accomplish.”
Watch KSWO’s report on Russ’ proposal, as aired on Thursday, below.
Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect Americans United for Separation of Church and State’s status as a non-atheist group.