As hundreds gathered Wednesday to support Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, at the state Capitol, fewer than a dozen others gathered separately, warning of the dangers of divisiveness and sectarian politics.
Kern has said homosexuality was "the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam." Kern also cited her Christian faith as the basis for refusing to accept the gay lifestyle and attempts to expose the "gay agenda."
"Religion can be a positive force. It's intended to be a positive voice for folks who may not have a voice," said the Rev. Jeff Hamilton, head of the Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma and a former state legislator. "The voice of religion should be speaking out against discrimination. ... my real worry is that in the legislative process, this sectarianism is used to institutionalize prejudice, institutionalize policies that affect negatively people on the margins of life. And that goes contrary to the Christian point of view and Jesus of Nazareth.
"You're entitled as a Christian to have your beliefs even though your factual basis is not sound, but you cannot cloak yourself in holiness and claim that everything you say is factually correct or biblically correct."
Tearing down the signs
Members of Parents and Friends of Gay and Lesbians, the Respect Diversity Foundation, the Cimarron Alliance and Oklahomans for Equality said they want to elevate the public debate waging between their camp and Kern's legislative office.
"My parents are alive today because of the actions of three Christians," said Michael Korenblit, president of the Respect Diversity Foundation.
Korenblit's parents narrowly survived the Holocaust, helped to safety by three Americans. At least one of his parents' saviors was killed by the Nazis for helping them escape. Years later, Korenblit asked children of the man who saved his parents why he risked his life for strangers.
"They told me he was a deeply religious man," Korenblit said, adding that his religious convictions led him to incontrovertible bravery and sacrifice.
Korenblit said his father was confused when he came to pre-civil rights movement Oklahoma, when segregated water fountains, restaurants and buses were commonplace.
"He couldn't understand. 'How could they come to Germany to save me, and then treat people within their own country this way?'
"But guess what, those colored water fountain signs came down, and this will too," he said.
Are attitudes changing?
Jeremy Howard, 30, a Norman businessman, said there is a generational element to Kern's words and the subsequent rhetoric that is neither relevant to younger generations nor will be tolerated in the future.
"Even as a good old boy from rural Oklahoma, who grew up in ignorance, I am now an indication that Oklahoma is on the upswing, and our attitudes reflect that change," Howard said. "As ugly as it was, this allows us to begin the dialogue about who we are as Oklahomans and what we believe in."
The small group of gay rights supporters spoke about how religious doctrine is interpreted differently and sometimes misinterpreted or used to wedge people apart.
They asked whether the Kern incident would have long-term consequences for a state trying to reinvent itself. In the end, they agreed past divisions would not play a part of the future.
"I think this Sally thing is a last gasp," Hamilton said.