Oklahoma recently made national news when a state legislative committee voted 11-4 to send a bill through for consideration. House Bill 1380 would stop funding to Oklahoma AP History classes in high schools based on the reasoning that some Oklahoma lawmakers believe AP History teaches Oklahoma students the “bad things” about U.S. history. The phrase “history is written by the victors” comes to mind. With 11 Republican votes for this bill and four Democrat votes against it, it’s easy to see the parallel in a red state like Oklahoma.
Now another (proposed) Oklahoma bill is receiving some attention for its apparent absurdity, but is it in danger of also breezing through the consideration process? Oklahoma Sen. Anthony Sykes (R) introduced Senate Bill 733, which would require Oklahoma couples applying for marriage licenses to get tested for STIs before they can be given the OK to marry. If either or both individuals test positive for “syphilis or other communicable diseases”, the state can deny them the right to marry.
There are a few MAJOR problems with this proposed bill.
- Once again, Oklahoma is trying to interfere with who we decide we would like to marry!!! State legislators have worked tirelessly to keep gay and lesbian couples from marrying (from denying benefits to all partners of Oklahoma National Guard members just to keep gay and lesbian partners from receiving benefits to proposing to fire county clerk workers who issue licenses to gay and lesbian couples after the Supreme Court ruled the ban on gay marriage in Oklahoma unconstitutional).
- Many Oklahomans are not waiting until marriage to have sex! Despite being in the heart of the Bible Belt, many Oklahoma teens and young adults (and adults) are having sex outside of marriage, many without legitimate sexual health education. Oklahoma does not mandate that its schools teach sexual health education, and when schools do have a sexual health education program, they must cover abstinence-only education but can pick and choose what else they want to cover. That means schools can teach whatever they want! Scary, I know. So without comprehensive (and safe) sexual health education, this bill has the potential to limit marriage licenses to adults who have STIs because they were let down by a state who thought it was unnecessary to teach them how to properly and appropriately use a condom.
- The bill would require couples to file their tests with the court clerk’s office, which would then become…PUBLIC RECORD! Yeah, you know that thing called PRIVACY we all like so much. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which protects the privacy of our medical records, goes right out the window! So if you don’t really see anything wrong with the first two reasons we should NOT let this bill pass, I hope this last reason at least appeals to you!
I attended the 2015 Take Root conference: red state perspectives on reproductive justice in Norman this past weekend. One of the sessions I attended addressed reproductive justice in the Deep South. The panelists talked about their youth advocacy movements to bring comprehensive and responsible sexual health education to states like Louisiana, Alabama, and Georgia. At least one of those states still require abstinence-only sex education IF a school even decides to teach “sex ed”.
This past week I was inspired by two things: (1) the work the panelists in that session continue to do to get our nation’s youth behind responsible sexual health education and (2) that HB 1380 was met with such an uproar that it made national news AND caused the bill’s author to backtrack and claim that the wording was wrong and the bill (in its current state) needs revisions.
I urge my fellow Oklahomans, to please not let these things slide when lawmakers try to play on our apparent constituent apathy. In the 2014 midterm elections this past November, only 29.8% of Oklahomans showed up to vote! This is probably why lawmakers believed they could slip some of these absurd, outdated, and intrusive laws through. Perhaps these bills can be a blessing in disguise and cause Oklahomans to wake up and smell the stale coffee Oklahoma lawmakers keep trying to serve us!