Veto referendum could be used to fight discriminatory SB1140

Oklahoma State Capitol. Photo provided.

By Jordan Redman
Staff Writer

Many groups decried Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's decision to sign SB1140 into law. 

On May 11, 2018, Fallin signed SB1140, a bill that would allow religious-based adoption agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples, single people and non-Christians while still receiving government funding.

"It is shameful that Gov. Mary Fallin has signed into law a patently discriminatory law that targets children,” said JoDee Winterhof, Senior Vice President of Policy and Political Affairs at the Human Rights Campaign. “Gov. Fallin has cemented her legacy, siding with discrimination and the legislature in throwing kids under the bus to create a ‘license to discriminate’ against LGBTQ Oklahomans. With this action, Oklahoma has the negative distinction of being the only state[s] to sign an anti-LGBTQ bill into law this year. Oklahoma’s leaders must live with that, and live with the reputational fallout that it may bring. This is wrong.”

Many Oklahomans were left wondering, what happens now?

There are various legal possibilities to explore, including a veto referendum.

According to OKPolicy, under the Oklahoma Constitution, citizens have the power to repeal legislation via veto referendum. Article V, Section 3 states:

"Referendum petitions shall be filed with the Secretary of State not more than ninety (90) days after the final adjournment of the session of the Legislature which passed the bill on which the referendum is demanded. The veto power of the Governor shall not extend to measures voted on by the people. All elections on measures referred to the people of the state shall be had at the next election held throughout the state, except when the Legislature or the Governor shall order a special election for the express purpose of making such reference. Any measure referred to the people by the initiative or referendum shall take effect and be in force when it shall have been approved by a majority of the votes cast thereon and not otherwise."

To put a veto referendum on the ballot requires signatures equal to 5 percent of voters in the last Gubernatorial election. Currently (2018), a veto referendum would require 41,242 signatures to get on the ballot. After a veto referendum is drafted, it goes through a lengthy process which can include various legal challenges, according to BallotPedia.

"There have been 20 veto referendums in Oklahoma history, with the last one in 1970. An unsuccessful 1991 effort to repeal House Bill 1017 was conducted through a proposed constitutional amendment, not a veto referendum. In 2018, a veto referendum campaign (State Question 799) was launched to overturn HB 1010xx, a revenue-raising measure that passed with 3/4 support from both chambers," according to OKPolicy.

20 veto referendum ballot measures have been on the Oklahoma ballot, with the first qualifying for the 1910 ballot. The last time a veto measure qualified for the ballot in Oklahoma was in 1970.

Oklahoma State Question 21, Veto Measure (1910) Failed.
Oklahoma State Question 47, Veto Measure (1913) Passed.
Oklahoma State Question 61, Veto Measure (1914) Failed.
Oklahoma State Question 62, Veto Measure (1914) Failed.
Oklahoma State Question 94, Veto Measure (1920) Passed.
Oklahoma State Question 135, Veto Measure (1926) Failed.
Oklahoma State Question 137, Veto Measure (1926) Failed.
Oklahoma State Question 164, Veto Measures (1932) Failed.
Oklahoma State Question 179, Veto Measure (1933) Passed.
Oklahoma State Question 184, Veto Measure (1933) Passed.
Oklahoma State Question 216, Veto Measure (1938) Failed.
Oklahoma State Question 236, Veto Measure (1938) Failed.
Oklahoma State Question 238, Veto Measure (1938) Failed.
Oklahoma State Question 359, Veto Measure (1954) Passed.
Oklahoma State Question 360, Veto Measure (1954) Passed.
Oklahoma State Question 395, Veto Measure (1960) Failed.
Oklahoma State Question 420, Veto Measure (1964) Failed.
Oklahoma State Question 437, Veto Measure (1966) Failed.
Oklahoma State Question 464, Veto Measure (1970) Failed.
Oklahoma State Question 469, Veto Measure (1970) Failed.

Oklahomans for Equality, an LGBT+ advocacy group in Oklahoma said they are looking into legal action.

"If we're going to do this, I want to outlaw LGBT+ discrimination in Oklahoma. I'm only interested drawing the line in the dirt," said Toby Jenkins, Executive Director of Oklahomans for Equality.

It is unclear if the ACLU of Oklahoma will join in taking legal action against the discriminatory bill, as they did in Michigan in 2017.

Allie Shinn, External Affairs Director, ACLU of Oklahoma said, “We are disappointed, though frankly unsurprised, that the Governor chose today to continue the Legislature’s game of using children and LGBT Oklahomans as pawns in cruel political games. SB 1140 is discriminatory, anti-family, anti-children, and anti-First Amendment. Rather than stand up to religious fanaticism, the Governor has chosen to reinforce the delusions of those who confuse discrimination with liberty. This measure serves no legitimate policy purpose. Its only purpose is to shortsightedly advance the careers of politicians who are more interested in exploiting a culture of fear and hysteria than they are in effectively governing. Governor Fallin may wish us all to believe she has worked to make Oklahoma a more hospitable place to live, but by signing legislation like this, she has permanently stained her legacy as Governor of the State of Oklahoma.”

Currey Cook, Counsel and Director, Youth in Out-of-Home Care Project, Lambda Legal, also reacted to the signing of SB1140, “With the stroke of a pen, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin earns the dubious honor of becoming the first governor in 2018 to write anti-LGBT discrimination into law and withhold loving homes from Oklahoma children. We will work hard to ensure other governors will think twice before adding their names to this roll of heartlessness and cruelty.

“There are children in the Oklahoma child welfare system in desperate need of loving families. And there are loving and qualified LGBT individuals and couples in Oklahoma who want nothing more than to give those children the warm, caring and safe environment they deserve," Cook concluded.

Lambda Legal asks any youth or adults who have experienced discrimination in Oklahoma’s child welfare systems to contact them.

According to, seven states have passed laws allowing faith-based placement centers to refuse services to same-sex couples: Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia.

The Gayly. May 14, 2018. 5:41 p.m. CST.