Oklahoma state representative, Todd Russ (R-Cordell) has introduced House Bill 1125, an act relating to Oklahoma marriage licenses. If passed, the bill would effectively end marriage licenses for anyone other than heterosexual Christians and Jews.
While the law does not explicitly specify that Oklahoma marriage licenses would be restricted based on faith, it would require that:
… marriages must be contracted by a formal ceremony performed or solemnized in the presence of at least two adult, competent persons as witnesses, by an ordained or authorized preacher or minister of the Gospel, priest or other ecclesiastical dignitary of any denomination who has been duly ordained or authorized by the church to which he or she belongs to preach the Gospel, or a rabbi and who is at least eighteen (18) years of age.
So, in effect, marriage licenses would be difficult to obtain by those not intending to be married by a preacher or minister of the Gospel, or by a rabbi.
In addition, the bill amends the current state law to explicitly preclude same-sex marriage licenses:
Section 3. A. Any unmarried person who is at least eighteen (18) years of age and not otherwise disqualified is capable of contracting and consenting to marriage with a person of the opposite sex.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State have, quite rightly, called out (as a “scandal” and an “outrage”) the religious bigotry embodied in House Bill 1125:
The de facto restricting marriage to people of faith, however, is a particularly audacious tactic that manages to combine anti-gay discrimination with discrimination against non-theists.
Further, as I read the bill, the discrimination goes beyond non-theists. By requiring a preacher of “the Gospel” or a rabbi, it seems to discriminate against certain faiths as well. This is in direct conflict with the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Todd Russ’s campaign website makes it very clear that Mr. Russ sees himself as working toward an American Theocracy:
Todd and Khristy and the children are members of First Assembly of God. Todd has been involved in several areas of ministry and served in the capacity of church Deacon over the years.
“I will stand for Godly values and Godly leadership in government. We as citizens have let government take prayer out of our schools, take the Ten Commandments out of our capitols, and they continue to tell us as Christians to be quiet about our fundamental beliefs. Our Christian values are the very things that have made our state and nation so great. We as rural Oklahomans greatly influence the standards of our nation because we are part of the Bible Belt. We must engage ourselves in the political process and support a leader that is willing to stand for these values regardless of party pressures.”
By introducing House Bill 1125, Mr. Russ, like many legislators on the national level, is attempting to circumvent the wall of separation between church and state.
In this particular case, Mr. Russ is using marriage licenses to drive his theocratic agenda. But we see this happening around reproductive rights, LGBT rights, textbook standards, and elsewhere. We, theists and non-theists alike, now more than ever, must remain vigilant at calling out and opposing religious discrimination in all forms. Especially by those with the power to transform their personal brand of bigotry into law.