The Journal Record
May 3, 2018
OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma’s religious adoption bill cleared its final hurdle the same way it has been received all legislative session: amid harsh criticism.
Senate Bill 1140 has been disputed since the beginning. Supporters call the measure a religious freedom bill, which prevents organizations from being forced to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. It is intended to insulate adoption agencies from civil liability, preventing the state from canceling contracts or rejected parents from suing because of those subjective decisions. Opponents said it codifies state-sponsored discrimination. Procedural maneuvers circumvented the normal process and infuriated critics.
During its committee hearing in the House, state Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, added an amendment to the bill that would have nixed protections for agencies using any taxpayer money. The original measure’s supporters lambasted the amendment, saying that it purposefully gutted the policy. Senate Floor Leader Greg Treat, the bill’s author, rejected the amendments and sent it to conference committee. There, House Speaker Charles McCall created a special committee for just that bill – instead of sending it to a committee that had been working together all year – where the bill returned to its original version and went back to floor eligibility.
The bill went to both chambers on Thursday, the supposed last day of the legislative session. That timeline is available only to bills that have gone through conference committee, so it is incredibly rare for policy bills this visible to do. Debate spanned hours in the Senate, where the bill passed.
There was no debate in the House, but discourse was even more heated. State Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, served as acting speaker. He worked with other members of the majority to ensure no questions or debate were allowed. Democrats appealed decisions, made several motions and tried many times to force debate, but they were unsuccessful. The dispute devolved into shouting matches. Russ forced the vote as the fights continued. Russ threatened state Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, with forcible removal. Williams’ colleagues surrounded him and rushed to the lectern to argue with Russ and House Floor Leader Jon Echols. All the while, members were pushing their buttons, turning their names flashing red and green.
“Declare the vote,” Russ said over the dull roar.
The House passed the measure 56-21, sending it to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk.
Hours before, the Senate focused on a larger philosophical picture. What should be more important, organizations’ religious freedom or protecting parents from discrimination? Republicans defended the former, Democrats the latter.
Treat said that he believes the Christian community has not handled its disputes with the LGBTQ community well, which has hurt people. He said he would never sponsor legislation furthering that pain. SB 1140 does not ban same-sex adoption, he said. Those couples will still be able to adopt. This would simply keep agencies from being forced to violate their beliefs.
“There is, in my estimation, no more important issue than protecting one’s ability to practice their faith freely in the United States,” he said.
He said the measure’s critics kept using the term “discriminate,” which he found pejorative. However, the measure’s critics within and outside of the Capitol, including state Sen. Michael Brooks, D-Oklahoma City, said that is exactly what it is.
“If you can give me another word to use, other than ‘discriminate,’ I’ll use it,” Brooks said.