Gay Rights

Lankford Says Homosexuality ‘A Choice Issue’

U.S. Rep. James Lankford has joined the legendary ranks of Oklahoma’s political conservatives who openly express archaic views about gay people, and it’s been captured on video by the ThinkProgress blog.

Last week, I wrote about the somewhat muted response from Oklahoma’s conservatives to President Barack Obama’s announcement that he supports same-sex marriage and that remains true, but ThinkProgress caught up with Lankford, a Republican, last week and asked him about his position on job discrimination against gay people.

Lankford’s position is simply that homosexuality is a “choice” and thus the gay community doesn’t merit the same official anti-discrimination protections given to other groups. Here’s what he said, according to ThinkProgress:

Well, you’re now dealing with behavior and I’m trying to figure out exactly what you’re trying to mean by that. Because you’re dealing with — race and sexual preferences are two different things. One is a behavior-related and preference-related and one is something inherently — skin color, something obvious, that kind of stuff. You don’t walk up to someone on the street and look at them and say, “Gay or straight?”

When asked if “you don’t think someone is born gay necessarily?,” Lankford responded this way: “Do I personally? No. I don’t. I think it’s a choice issue. Are there tendencies and such? Yes. But I think it’s a choice issue.”

Lankford’s comments came after a group of Senators called for hearings on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would largely ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace.

The ThinkProgress piece and video has a sort of “gotcha” feel to it, but Lankford and others in Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation should be held accountable for their outdated views. The idea that homosexuality is just a “choice” for people has been debunked by the world’s medical and science communities for years.

Is Lankford’s position based on religious beliefs? Is it political expediency?

Lankford’s comments may not be that earth shattering for folks here in red-dirt country, but even in Oklahoma there’s a growing tolerance and acceptance of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community.

The Oklahoma City Council, for example, recently passed an anti-discrimination measure that includes sexual orientation. That was an important step. Oklahoma City is in Lankford’s district.

How much longer can Oklahoma’s conservative politicians use intolerance of gay people as a campaign tool? It might still sell well with older Christian fundamentalists, but the demographics clearly show younger people are more tolerant and accepting of the LGBT community. It’s a matter of time.

Obama Announcement Generates Local Conservative Response

Image of rainbow flag

The conservative Oklahoma political response to President Barack Obama's announcement Wednesday that he supports same-sex marriage was strangely muted.

Conservative politicians here have used their opposition to gay rights as a fear-mongering campaign tool for years and the anti-Obama hysteria runs deep in one of the reddest states in the county.

So where's all that faux outrage and indignation based on Biblical teachings? Maybe it's coming soon. I wouldn't be surprised.

Even U.S. Jim Inhofe could only manage this bit of political sloganeering:

President Obama’s announcement today is not surprising. He is trying to shore up his liberal base in an election year. All along, he has supported the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. At the same time, he has shirked his responsibility as the Chief Executive, and unilaterally deemed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law, unworthy of enforcement. Even though he had previously said that he did not support gay marriage, his actions have indicated otherwise all along.

I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. Traditional marriage is a long-standing common sense American value that is the backbone of our society, and it is worth defending.

There's not much hellfire and damnation in that statement. Remember, Inhofe once took to the U.S. Senate floor to proclaim: "I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship." That's got a lot more meat for the Christian fundamentalists.

A Tulsa World article outlined some other political responses, and, for the most part, they seemed tepid. Gov. Mary Fallin's office, for example, issued this statement: "Governor Fallin believes that marriage is between a man and a woman."

Even state Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City), one of the world's most infamous gay bashers, could only muster this as the news hit, according to the Worldarticle: "I think it's a sad day when the leader of the free world comes out against the bedrock institution that has been the foundation of society." Where's the attendant gay terrorist attack?

As I write this, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who once warned against rampant lesbian debauchery in southeastern Oklahoma schools, hadn't even offered an official statement yet on an issue he used to win his Senate seat in the first place.

Could it be that just as Obama's views on same-sex marriage "evolved," as he put it, so, too, some conservatives--even in Oklahoma--are beginning to recognize extremist opposition to gay rights isn't the political slam dunk it once was? Polls shows that the country is evenly divided on same-sex marriage, and demographics alone show that support of gay marriage will only increase in coming years. In larger historical terms, it's only a last gasp of intolerance when North Carolina, Oklahoma or any state bans same-sex marriage.

Obama's announcement is an important one for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. Although it's only rhetorical at this point, it represents the first time a sitting president has pretty much endorsed full equal rights for LGBT people.

Obama, in announcing the decision, even referred to Christianity when he said:

. . . we [Michelle and I] are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and, hopefully, the better I’ll be as president.

This language makes it even more surprising Oklahoma conservatives weren't out thumping their version of the Bible after Obama made the announcement. Again, maybe it's coming soon.

I personally don't think the issue is religious, though I can accept Obama's logic given the religious context. It's really a question of basic equality for everyone. Access to a government-issued marriage license isn't and shouldn't be a religious issue, but Obama's announcement was landmark regardless of the specifics of how he evolved in his support of same-sex marriage.

Will Local LGBT Protections Get Erased?

Image of Mike Reynolds

(Update: On Monday, the House Judiciary Committee defeated the bill in a 6-5 vote.)

An Oklahoma legislative bill, if passed, would prevent cities from expanding their anti-discrimination employment policies beyond that offered by state government and nullify any existing policies that do so.

Currently, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is not protected under the state employment anti-discrimination law. Consequently, House Bill 2245, sponsored by Mike Reynolds, an Oklahoma City Republican, would nullify LGBT-related, anti-discrimination policies in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Miami, McAlester, Del City, Vinita, Altus, and Vinita. A LGBT anti-discrimination policy has been under consideration in Norman as well.

Reynolds, pictured right, is considered a staunch conservative on social issues. His legislative profile mentions that he’s an “Ordained Deacon and a member of Southern Hills Baptist Church.” He has been an outspoken supporter of creating an anti-abortion law that would grant personhood status to a fertilized human egg in Oklahoma

The organization Oklahomans for Equality has issued an advocacy alert about the legislation, which is scheduled to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee on Monday, Feb. 27. The organization urges people to contact the committee’s members and speak out against the bill.

The bill can be viewed as an obvious attempt to roll back anti-discrimination policies protecting the LGBT community in Oklahoma, though there’s been little media hype over the bill. (Here’s an excellent Norman Transcript article on the issue.) The chances of the bill’s approval remain uncertain.

Here’s the main text of the short, one-page bill:

Municipalities may enact nondiscrimination ordinances for municipal employees, but not more restrictive than the nondiscrimination laws for state employees provided for in Section 954 of Title 74 of the Oklahoma Statutes. Any existing or future order, ordinance or regulation which conflicts with this provision shall be null and void.

Here’s the law to which the bill refers:

§74 954. Discrimination in state employment.
It is hereby prohibited for any department or agency of the State of Oklahoma, or any official or employee of the same for and on behalf of the State of Oklahoma: to refuse to employ or to discharge any person, otherwise qualified, on account of race, color, creed, national origin, age, handicap, or ancestry; to discriminate for the same reasons in regard to tenure, terms, or conditions of employment; to deny promotion or increase in compensation solely for these reasons; to publish an offer of employment based on such discrimination; to adopt or enforce any rule or employment policy which so discriminates as to any employee; or to seek such information as to any applicant or employee or to discriminate in the selection of personnel for training solely on such basis. These provisions shall be cumulative and in addition to existing laws relating to discrimination in the classified service.

Here are some reasons HB 2245 is a bad bill and should be defeated:

  • The LGBT community needs anti-discrimination protection. The country and even conservative Oklahoma has come a long way in recent years in recognizing gay rights, but discrimination continues to exist. The bill, itself, is an example of what can be perceived as an action of discrimination.

  • The bill not only denies civil rights, it actually takes away civil rights. It’s simply preposterous that the state government would interfere legally with cities granting anti-discrimination protection to its workers. What’s the point of city elections, city councils and city boards if the state can simply nullify local policy at its legislative whim? This is an unnecessary intrusion.

  • The bill represents a huge rollback in Oklahoma progress. The fact that the state’s two largest cities have anti-discrimination polices related to sexual orientation helps Oklahoma’s overall image and its business climate. That would change if the bill is signed into law.

  • The state should actually learn a lesson from Oklahoma City and Tulsa and change its anti-discrimination employment policies to include the LGBT community.
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