Battle Lines drawn as Oklahoma Lawmakers Take Aim at Gays

New York Times/ Reuters, January 27th, 2015

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OKLAHOMA CITY – A raft of proposed laws in socially conservative Oklahoma, criticized for being discriminatory measures aimed at limiting the rights of gay and transgender people, has prompted a pushback from human rights groups seeking to sink the proposals.

Some Republicans in the Republican-dominated legislature have proposed about 10 pieces of legislation for the session that include measures allowing businesses to deny service to gay and transgender people and for those businesses to be immune from any civil penalties.

"These bills are nothing more than despicably vile direct attacks on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Oklahomans and their families," said Marty Rouse, field director for the national Human Rights Campaign, which is trying to defeat the bills.

This week, groups supporting rights for the LGBT community formed Freedom Oklahoma, which aims to lobby lawmakers to prevent the measures from being enacted. It also promises court battles if any become law.

But the group could face an uphill struggle in Oklahoma, one of the most socially conservative states.

Many Republicans have also been angered by decisions in federal courts declaring the state's ban on same-sex marriages illegal, with some saying they would file bills to protect the ban approved about 10 years ago with overwhelming support by voters.

"If a legislator wants to make a splash on a particular issue, you can bet they will file (bills)," said independent political analyst Jason Doyle, who added that fiscal conservatives in powerful positions could prevent the measures from becoming law.

One of main backers is Republican Representative Sally Kern, who garnered national attention for previously saying that "the homosexual agenda" was a bigger threat to the country than terrorism.

"The purpose of these bills is to protect the moral foundation upon which this state and this entire nation was established," Kern said on Tuesday. "That ensures equal rights for everyone, and prevents special rights for some."

Among the measures is a bill to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds or governmental salaries to support same-sex marriage.

Another calls for support of conversion therapy, which seeks to change sexual orientation through counseling. The practice has been banned in two states on grounds it is medically unfounded and puts children in danger.

Another bill would prohibit any religious entity from being required to recognize gay marriage or provide services or employment to gays.

( by Heide Brandes; Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Eric Beech)