If one thing's clear about the rapid spread of legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States, it's that some southern states are handling the change more gracefully than others. Take Alabama, for example, where anti-marriage equality activists and politicians alike are trying to halt, stall or delay its implementation, to the point of some counties defying a federal court order. Another southern state is taking a very different approach — the Oklahoma House passed an anti-gay marriage bill Thursday, ensuring that ministers who refuse to perform same-sex unions won't be punished for their ostensible faith beliefs.
The bill still needs to pass the Oklahoma Senate, of course, but that's a virtual certainty. Republicans control the Oklahoma Senate by a staggering margin, boasting 40 GOP votes against just 8 Democratic ones.
Oklahoma's Governor, Mary Fallin, is also a Republican and an avowed opponent of same-sex marriage, so this looks like a bill with a pretty easy road ahead — in spite of the many same-sex marriage victories that have cascaded through the country in recent months. According to Reuters, Rep. David Brumbaugh, the author of the bill, offered this defense of his work:
It's not about discrimination or anything like that, it's just that we want to make sure they were protected.
Of course, it is "discrimination" — there's no escaping that. Having one's opposition to same-sex marriage rooted in religion doesn't change anything. It might make the refusal more sympathetically received in some corners, sure, but to deny it's discriminatory is to deny a naked truth.
If there's a silver lining in this, however — something to take some heart in, despite how disheartening it is to see people still fighting these battles — is that the bill wouldn't actually stop same-sex marriage in Oklahoma, just protect those ministers who refuse to perform ceremonies from legal repercussion. This was an issue that got a lot of play in the run-up to the Supreme Court's massive ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. Namely, should anti-gay business-owners and clergy be legally required to provide services for such weddings?
In the case of businesses, there's a legal and moral precedent for saying "yes," rooted in the Civil Rights Act's legacy of forcible desegregation of privately owned businesses. But, as always, thinks can get a little weird when religion gets involved — we're rarely so forgiving of wild-eyed, unsound reasoning as when claims of religious freedom are involved. Though obviously, even if every anti-gay minister in the state took advantage of this law, that wouldn't completely stop same-sex couples marriages from going forward, civilly or otherwise.
More concerning, frankly, is what it suggests about the state of government in Oklahoma. Are we really strapping in for one of these die-hard, last-stand battles on this? It sure looks that way, in spite of marriage equality proponents making it clear they'll fight this and any other such bill in court. It is possible that the Supreme Court's big, pending same-sex marriage case will blow a hole in all of it, and render it moot. But Fallin's not shy about taking the high court to task, either — she blasted its refusal to hear Oklahoma's challenge to marriage equality as "both undemocratic and a violation of states' rights," according to the AP.
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