Can Oklahoma Write a New Law That Lets It Escape the Matthew Shepard Act?


When Barack Obama signed the Matthew Shepard Act in October, it was the first time the federal government recognized LGBTs as a specific class of people — and dubbed them worthy of protecting. Not only did queer Americans score a new federal class, but also a commitment — in labor and finances — from federal law enforcement to work with local and state authorities on hate crimes investigations. Except one Oklahoma state lawmaker thinks he can exempt the Sooner State from the federal law, effectively picking and choosing which Congressional acts Oklahoma will adhere to. Expanding on State Sen. Steve Russell’s announcement in November, MetroStar reports:

These words proved prophetic in Oklahoma as State Senator Steve Russell (Republican District 45) stated his plans to introduce legislation in the upcoming Oklahoma legislative session that would exempt Oklahoma from adhering to the expanded Federal Hate Crimes law. This proposed measure would forbid state and local law enforcement from cooperating with Federal authorities investigating a gay hate crime in Oklahoma. As Senator Russell stated, “Basically if Oklahoma decided a case that the Feds wanted to overturn, they would be on their own. We would not share evidence or manpower.” Russell did state further that his proposed bill would not interfere in cases Oklahoma deemed appropriate in accordance with existing state hate crimes laws which do not include sexual orientation.

And just so things are absolutely clear: Sen. Russell — a former commander at Ft. Hood, where the recent shooting massacre took place — is just fine working with the feds on hate crimes, just not hate crimes targeting Oklahoma’s LGBT population. But as Sen. Russell’s (only openly gay) colleague in the Assembly puts it, this is nothing but fearmongering.

Among those in opposition to this legislation is State Representative Al McAffrey, a Democrat representing District 88 and Oklahoma’s only openly gay legislator. As he puts it, “Senator Russell is employing the same tired arguments from yesteryear. Preventing crimes against Oklahomans because of who they are is in no way an attack on freedom. That argument is nothing but empty rhetoric used to scare and mislead folks.” McAffrey also added that should this legislation pass it would be superseded by Federal law anyway, elaborating that “ I believe this is a political ploy because of his position and probably that of his church in opposition to gay rights.”

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