The Oklahoma House of Representatives approved a bill on March 10 that would only allow members of the clergy to issue marriage licenses to couples in the state.
State Rep. Todd Russ, a Republican who sponsored the bill, said the proposal would protect county court clerks who oppose same-sex marriage from recognizing the unions.
The bill passed with a 67-24 vote and went to the state Senate for further debate. If the state Senate passes the bill, only an ordained or authorized preacher, minister or other ecclesiastical member of any denomination could issue marriage certificates.
“Marriage was not instituted by government,” state Rep. Dennis Johnson, a Republican, said. “It was instituted by God. There is no reason for Oklahoma or any state to be involved in marriage.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, a nonprofit aimed to advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, the federal government grants more than 1,000 benefits, rights and protections based on marriage. Some benefits include tax breaks, Social Security benefits and increased health care coverage.
Opponents of the bill said this is a reaction to the Supreme Court ruling that struck down state bans on same-sex marriages.
James Nimmo, a member of Oklahoma City’s Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he thinks the state government is wrong to limit a federally recognized right.
“If it’s the law that same gender marriage is legal in Oklahoma then by golly, when they present a properly executed marriage license, that couple is married, and it has to be filed. It’s a matter of the law,” Nimmo said.
Russ said he wrote the bill to reflect the beliefs of many Oklahomans who disagree with same-sex marriage.
“If (the federal government) going to tell us how we have to believe in Oklahoma, when three-fourths of the people disagreed with their opinion, this bill is going to reset the playing field,” Russ said.
Nimmo said he thinks the state government has the authority to selectively choose which laws to enact.
“You don’t get to pick and choose the laws you want to enforce just because it coincides with a particular point of view,” Nimmo said.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons