Sen. Joseph Silk and Rep. Todd Russ may be fooling themselves with their attempts to take bigotry and intolerance to new heights. They’re the latest political buffoons to embarrass Oklahoma on the world stage, but they won’t be the last. Their relentless persecution of the LGBT community have added to the mounting stack of negatives companies see when they mull a move to Oklahoma.
In his zeal to prevent gays from marrying, Russ led the charge last week to strip the state of its ability to issue marriage licenses, thereby leaving the burden with pastors. The logic seems to be that since most churches won’t marry gays, and the First Amendment guarantees they can never be compelled to do so, the bill will limit the options for gays looking to exchange vows. But as usual, the soldiers may have hacked off their noses to spite their faces, taken the noses of the taxpayers with them.
The state will now lose the revenue it picked up for issuing licenses, and it can hardly afford another bleed with a $611 million shortfall looming. Paradoxically, if the Supreme Court decides gays aren’t free to marry everywhere, Russ’ bill makes it legal in Oklahoma.
From a certain standpoint, getting the government out of the “marriage business” could turn out to be a good deal, despite the ulterior motive behind it. But it could also be viewed as the “party of less government” using its heavy hand to force non-religious couples to marry through religious means. They may have a constitutional problem, but what the heck; Okie taxpayers can sit back and watch education, infrastructure and other vital services plundered as revenue is diverted to defend a steady stream of lawsuits.
Silk’s proposals, though, have no silver lining. He says LGBT folks “don’t have a right to be served in every single store.” He’s halfway correct, because as current law has it, an entrepreneur can deny access for certain reasons. But frankly, refusing to sell a dozen doughnuts, a pair of jeans, a bungalow or a Cadillac to an LGBT person is not only unconscionably rude, it’s a violation of the Golden Rule, which so many people like Silk claim to follow. When Christ admonished everyone to “love thy neighbor,” he did not add, “so long as he or she is straight.”
Refusing basic service because of sexual orientation doesn’t make good business sense; it’s like setting a match to your own store when you have no insurance on the building or inventory. Selling someone a product or service is not the same as approving of that person. Instead, it simply projects, on the part of the owner, a sense of community within his business. The message: “We may not like who you are and what you do, but you’re part of this town, so we will treat you like fellow human beings.”
Silk’s oddly disjointed comments to the New York Times, to clarify his position, only muddied the waters. On the one hand, he claims “people have a right to be homosexual and I will always protect that.” But on the other, he claims LGBT people aim to “trample another person’s right to live out their religious beliefs in their places of business.” What Gospel is he reading that suggests ostracization and hate constitute a religious belief? Wouldn’t a businessman serve his faith mandates better by selling the toaster to the gay couple, and then praying for their souls after they’ve left the building?
We don’t need Russ, Silk and their ilk to protect our “liberty.” Our Founding Fathers – men who possessed considerably more intellectual acumen than Oklahoma legislators – have already seen to that. The Declaration of Independence said it succinctly: “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable; that all men are created equal and independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent and inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. ...” Sexual orientation never entered into the equation.
Given the way this Legislature behaves, we’re surprised they have never suggested denying marriage licenses to convicted child molesters, spouse-beaters or murderers, or advanced a bill to let store owners refuse these miscreants service. That’s probably because in the eyes of most legislators, LGBT people – the vast majority of whom just want the same rights other Americans have, and pay taxes for the privilege – would seem to be a greater evil than the most hardened criminals.