The year 2004 will always be considered a bleak year for equality in Oklahoma when state voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as “between one man and one woman.”
I had just started this blog in earnest a few months before that November vote in the general election. What struck me and others I knew in favor of same-sex marriage and gay rights in general back then wasn’t so much the overall outcome but the vote totals and percentages themselves.
The numbers were suffocating and depressing. The Oklahoma Senate voted 38 to 7 and the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted 92 to 4 to put the measure on the ballot. Oklahomans voted 1,075,216 in favor of State Question 711 limiting marriage to a man and woman while only 347,303 of them voted against it. That’s an approximately 76 to 24 percent split.
The ballot title itself reeked of exclusion and hatred:
This measure adds a new section of law to the Constitution. It adds Section 35 to Article 2. It defines marriage to be between one man and one woman. It prohibits giving the benefits of marriage to people who are not married. It provides that same sex marriages in other states are not valid in this state. It makes issuing a marriage license in violation of this section a misdemeanor.
Note the phrase “benefits of marriage.” Why even use the word “benefits” in a rhetorical sense. Was the point to rub it in the faces of the gay community? It sounds like something a playground bully might say with a nasty smirk. I get to have the benefits. You don’t. Ha ha ha. Note, too, the provisions that prohibit the state from recognizing other state laws and criminalizing same sex marriage.
As we now know, the amendment and similar measures in Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming were overturned by a federal panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2014. On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex legal throughout the nation under an interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
As I mentioned, it seemed suffocating and depressing here in 2004. On a personal level, I wondered at that time, like I’m sure others here did, whether it was worth it to keep on fighting for progressive causes in Oklahoma. I definitely thought about writing off Okie Funk as a short experiment at that point, but eventually SQ 711 served as another catalyst for people to keep on fighting. I doubled down on the political writing and new people and a new generation rose up here to fight for equality and other progressive causes at the local level.
The Oklahoma City Pride Festival and Parade grew in size, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community here-at least from my perspective-became better organized and recognized as a political force.
Meanwhile, sympathetic depictions of LGBT people continued to appear in movies and television shows, and a younger generation showed their tolerance and support. In 2012, President Barack Obama became the first president to endorse same-sex marriage. Before this, of course, thousands of gay people and others stood up for equal rights, sometimes losing their lives to do so. There were the New York Stonewall riots in the late 1960s and the HIV activists in the 1980s. I could go on, but I’m not the one to write this particular history in all its detail, although it feels good to be on the right and winning side.
So what a wonderful moment in history! What a turnaround in feelings and reactions from the dark days of 2004 in Oklahoma when it seemed the same-sex marriage fight could take another generation or even longer here and I was ready to give up on this place when it came to politics.