Oklahoma Plan to Limit Gay Marriage May Backfire

Oklahoma Lawmakers Seek to Limit Gay Marriage—Plan May Fail

In an attempt to restrict same-sex marriage in the state, Oklahoma’s conservative Republican House of Representatives enacted a law requiring that all marriages be performed by either judges, retired judges or licensed members of the clergy. The law defines “clergy” to include a preacher, minister, rabbi or ecclesiastical dignitary. The intent was to remove county clerks from the process, so that persons seeking to enter into same-sex marriage would find it more difficult to have the ceremony performed.

In response, though, gay marriage proponents have found a loophole that makes it likely that it will be easier for people of the same gender to get married—they have applied to become licensed ministers, so that they can perform the ceremonies. Sources say the Oklahoma laws are very vague on what is required to obtain a license to be a minister. Furthermore, constitutional experts say that any attempt by the Oklahoma legislature to narrowly define who may become a minister will likely run afoul of the 1st Amendment freedom of religion, and the prohibition of the establishment of any religion by the government.

Pro-marriage advocates say the law will likely have a more detrimental impact on heterosexual marriage applicants, particularly if the parties are agnostic or atheist. Under the prior law, a person needed no religious affiliation to get married, but could have the ceremony performed by the county clerk. Many fear that it will become very difficult for “non-believers” to find someone who will agree to conduct their ceremony. Calling the legislation “the marriage chaos” bill, Troy Stevenson, executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, a support organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, says the statute violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

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