Oklahoma Lawmaker Wants To Test Everybody For Syphilis Before Marriage

Oklahoma state Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, is pictured at his desk in the Senate chamber in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Sept. 3,
Oklahoma state Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, is pictured at his desk in the Senate chamber in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

If one Oklahoma lawmaker has his way, people with sexually transmitted diseases will not just be getting married in his state.

Senate Bill 733, introduced by state Sen. Anthony Sykes (R), would require both partners to take a blood test within 30 days of applying for a marriage license. A license would be granted only if "in the opinion of the physician, the persons named therein are not infected with syphilis or other communicable or infectious diseases or, if infected, that such diseases are not in a stage which may be communicable to the marriage partner," the bill says.

Problem number one: the potential public release of private medical information. The full text of the bill implies that the office that grants marriage licenses would also keep copies of the blood tests, according to Oklahoma's News 9. This might violate the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which is designed to protect the confidentiality of Americans' medical records.

Problem number two: Oklahoma used to require a premarital blood test for syphilis but eliminated it in 2004 -- for good reason. At that time, NewsOK.com reported, the Oklahoma State Department of Health said that some 300,000 blood tests in the past five years had turned up just five new cases of syphilis.

As recently as 1980, there were 34 states that demanded a premarital blood test, but virtually every state has repealed that requirement since. Today, only Montana still has it on the books.

Blood test requirements "were enacted in the first half of the twentieth century as part of public health campaigns to reduce the spread of communicable diseases and prevent birth defects. The laws required couples applying for a marriage license to be screened for certain conditions, commonly rubella or syphilis," explains a 2009 study led by Kasey Buckles at the University of Notre Dame. "However, after penicillin proved to be a cheap and effective treatment for syphilis and vaccines were developed for rubella, these screenings were no longer considered cost-effective."

In other words, Sykes is trying to revive an old and largely discredited idea. An attorney, he has served in the state Senate since 2006, two years after the Oklahoma repeal.

So far, his proposed legislation has been referred to the Judiciary Committee, which Sykes chairs. There are currently no co-sponsors.

h/t Salon

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