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The Roundup

The Man Behind Oklahoma’s Personhood Movement

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Posted 06.27.12

Before their efforts ultimately failed, the Oklahoma legislature’s top priority this season was passing a “personhood” law. A bill that would have granted embryos personhood rights at conception easily passed the Senate but wasn’t heard in the House, and the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down a ballot measure that would have put the issue up to voters.

It caused a stir nationally when senators who opposed the bill added tongue-in-cheek amendments to forbid masturbation and took photographs of themselves holding signs that expressed their displeasure at the proposal with naughty language.

Ultimately, all that was passed was a non-binding resolution expressing the legislature’s support for the idea of personhood. The resolution’s author, Rep. Steve Vaughan, R-Ponca City, called it “our Declaration of Independence.”

Photo courtesy Flickr user benchilada.

But despite seeming to be such an Oklahoma-centric issue, the man behind the state’s—and America’s—personhood movement is Keith Mason, a 31-year-old Colorado native whom Newsweek described as “a clean-cut guy with the unflappable air of a college quarterback” and “part preacher, part hipster.” The magazine profiled Mason and his personhood crusade in this week’s issue.

A charismatic, green-eyed 31-year-old, he tools around town on a vintage motorbike, loves the metal band Deftones, and peppers his speech with gee-whiz phrases like “cool stuff, man” and the occasional biblical teaching.

Mason grew up in an evangelical family and was turned on to the atrocity of abortion at an early age, Newsweek reported. Mason “met his wife while praying outside an abortion clinic” and married her five months later. “Purity was very important to us,” he told Newsweek.

A blogger for Slate said the couple came off as “creepy wannabe sex cops.”

Mason founded Personhood USA four years ago and has since “helped spark 22 ‘personhood’ bills and ballot initiatives,” according to Newsweek—but none of them has passed.

But Mason’s work is far from finished—even in Oklahoma. He’s appealing that state Supreme Court ruling mentioned above. In April, he told The Daily Beast the ruling was “a momentum builder.”

“It just gives us an opportunity to take the argument to a higher level,” he said. “We’ve just begun the fight in Oklahoma.”

He said the court ruling could help his group because it “makes people mad.” He added, “It’s making the social tension so extreme. Oklahoma is one of the most pro-life states in America. It’s the Bible belt. This will help motivate the people of Oklahoma to fight.”

Mason told Newsweek: “As long as I have arms, I’m gonna be swinging them.”

And, as expected, pro-choice and women’s-rights activists will be swinging back.

From Slate:

One thing that I can say is that unlike many people waging the war against abortion and effective contraception, the Masons don’t seem like hypocrites. They did shun premarital sex, even at the expense of basic common sense, and they seem to be living their values by having one baby after another. But there’s a strong political price to be paid for avoiding hypocrisy. By living their values, they’re giving everyone else a thorough eyeball of the sexual deprivation and excessive child-bearing they have in mind for everyone else by pushing laws aimed at punishing nonprocreative sexual behavior.

Holly Wall, News Editor