Oklahoma Sen. Joseph Silk (R) is refusing to retreat in the face of a furious backlash to his proposed legislation that would protect what he sees as the right of business owners to refuse service to anyone who violates their religious beliefs.
Leaders of the Oklahoma LGBT community believe this is only one of several pieces of legislation in the state intended to do nothing but legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Silk wrote on his campaign website, which he has kept operational, that the legislation does not mention people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.
“In reality it has nothing to do with them. The intent of the bill is to protect private property rights and religious liberty,” Silk wrote. “People have a right to be homosexual and I will always protect that. However that right does not give them an excuse to trample another person’s right to live out their religious beliefs in their place of business.”
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons enjoy legal protections to do just about everything a heterosexual person can do in Oklahoma. Same-sex marriage is legal. Same-sex adoption is legal. Same-sex sex is legal, too. But nothing in Oklahoma law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Silk does not want to take away any of those rights. He just wants to be sure business owners have the right to refuse to deal with anyone or do anything that would violate their beliefs.
Silk wrote on his website that he is not attacking the rights of the LGBT movement and believes they have the right to live how they want to live, and do what they want to do.
“They, on the other hand, are launching a massive campaign that is attempting to strip other people’s individual liberties away if they hold different beliefs,” he wrote. “This is complete intolerance.”
“The problem with the current LGBT movement is that they have zero tolerance or consideration of other people’s rights, and yes they are a threat to our freedoms and liberties in the United States and Oklahoma,” Silk added on his website.
Silk’s legislation, SB 440, is only one proposal to outrage Oklahoma LGBT community leaders. Another came from the office of Oklahoma Rep. Chuck Strohm (R).
The Republican’s “Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act” would allow bakers and photographers to turn away customers who would “violate the person’s religious beliefs.”
Democrat State Rep. Emily Virgin, with the assistance of the ACLU in Oklahoma, devised an interesting counter attack to Strohm’s proposal.
She added an amendment that would require businesses that plan to refuse service to LGBT people to post a sign on the door notifying their customers of the policy.
“This would save same-sex couples the trouble and embarrassment of going into that business just to be turned away,” Virgin wrote on her Facebook page.
Her amendment to Strohm’s HB 1371 stipulated the notice of intent to refuse service must be clearly visible wherever the business interacts with customers, including websites.
“The notice may refer to the person’s religious beliefs, but shall state specifically which couples the business does not serve by referring to a refusal based upon sexual orientation, gender identity or race,” in the words of the amendment.
Ryan Kiesel, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma, praised Virgin’s proposal. He told Raw Story “it very pointedly exposes the absurdity of creating a new era of segregation.”
Other state legislatures — Indiana and Mississippi — have approved legislation described as protecting religious freedoms of business owners.
Strohm’s legislation has been shelved.
But, Virgin told reporters during a press conference to announce the formation of an LGBT advocacy coalition, Freedom Oklahoma, no other state in the nation has seen such an onslaught of proposals that she believes would legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians.
In addition to the legislation proposed by Strohm and Silk, other proposals before the Oklahoma Legislature would prevent the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses and would make it easier for teenagers to obtain therapy to stop them from being attracted to members of the same sex.
“The battleground is right here in Oklahoma,” Virgin said. “We will defeat these hate-filled pieces of legislation.”
Troy Stevenson, the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, said half-a-dozen pieces of legislation were introduced in January 2015 that his organization considers anti-gay.
“We will make sure that legislators know if they are going to legislate against our rights they are going to have to look us in the eye,” Stevenson said.
Silk isn’t blinking.
“Yes I did say that homosexuals do not have the right to be served in every store, just as I do not believe that I, my family, or anyone else has the right to be served in every private business,” he wrote.
“The right to provide services should be the decision of the business owners. We need to keep our country free and stop this radical, intolerant, movement.”