LGBT group says 2 bills in Okla. would ‘turn back the clock on fifty years of civil rights progress’

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin

Oklahoma’s LGBT advocacy organization, The Equality Network, expressed outrage Tuesday over passage of two bills by the state Legislature.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is not prohibited by Oklahoma state law. But the two bills would impede the right to sue based on any type of discrimination, according to TEN.

SB763 creates an office of Civil Rights Enforcement. But this office assumes duties of the current independent Oklahoma Human Rights Commission, a state agency, and puts it under the attorney general.

SB837 was intended to modernize language in the state’s nondiscrimination statutes and, in its original form, added “genetic information” to the protected categories. But as the bill made its way through the Legislature, it changed. Under the amended bill, all complaints would have to be made within 180 days of the alleged incident of bias. If the complaint is over employment discrimination, a civil suit could be filed only after obtaining a Notice of a Right to Sue from the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission.

“It is our belief that the Oklahoma Legislature is politicizing and impeding the mechanisms that protect citizens’ civil rights.” TEN President Kathy L. Williams said in a press release. “Without access to the services of an independent and nonpartisan Oklahoma Human Rights Commission, many victims of bias will not have the financial means to pursue civil rights claims against discriminatory employers. In a session where the legislature has already moved to repeal affirmative action and capped noneconomic damage awards, it is clear that many legislators are attempting to shield corporations from any culpability for their actions, however harmful they may be to ordinary Oklahomans.  In our increasingly diverse society, these short-sighted actions will alienate – not attract – the world-class employers our representatives claim they wish to bring to our state.  We cannot turn back the clock on fifty years of civil rights progress and expect Oklahoma to be perceived as forward-thinking, welcoming place.”

Oklahoma’s governor, Mary Fallin, has not said if she will sign the bills. On its Twitter feed, TEN urged people to tell Fallin not to sign the bills. Fallin’s office can be reached at info@gov.ok.gov or 405-521-2342.

—  David Taffet