A year later, cockfighting law still challenged


Sunday, November 2nd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


TAHLEQUAH - Gary Gilliam has spent half his life caring for gamefowl and they've rewarded his efforts over the years, winning dozens of cockfights.

But now he is in a fight of his own to keep the blood sport legal and continue a tradition tied to his father-in-law's breeding in the 1960s.

Nearly a year ago, Oklahomans approved a ban on cockfighting by a 125,000-vote margin. But cockfighting supporters have blocked the law's enforcement with injunctions and temporary restraining orders in nearly 30 of the state's 77 counties.

The legal wrangling has resulted in slower sales of Gilliam's birds and a federal law that bans breeders from shipping their birds across state lines has made things worse.

"They're trying to take it all away from me," Gilliam told the Muskogee Phoenix & Times-Democrat.

"I've got to go for it. `We're just going to go on like we were and raise roosters until they put me in jail. This is all I know."

The 7,000-member Oklahoma Gamefowl Breeders Association has put up $800,000 to fight the new law, filing lawsuits in district courts all across the state.

The ban violates their way of life, the gamefowl breeders say.

"We just want to raise these chickens, test them and be left alone," said James Tally, president of the association. "We certainly don't want to be criminals."

The group wanted the Oklahoma Supreme Court to withdraw its jurisdiction over the case but the state's high court refused to do so in September.

Larry Oliver, an attorney for the cockfighters, filed a brief last Monday arguing the state court should step down.

Attorney General Drew Edmondson asked the court to uphold the constitutionality of the ban, which cockfighters argue is vague and deprives people involved in the industry of their property.

Because of the challenges, pits will reopen next week, a fact not lost on the group which worked to get the issue on a statewide ballot.

The Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting will continue working to get the law enforced, chairwoman Janet Halliburton said.

"I never thought it would've taken this long," Halliburton said. "I can't believe Oklahoma would entertain these delays for what passed by the popular vote."

Halliburton said the sport is not only cruel to animals, but encourages gambling and criminal mischief.

"It's not a good atmosphere. It also makes Oklahoma the laughingstock of the United States."

Louisiana and New Mexico are the only states where cockfighting is legal.

Some of Oklahoma's gamefowl breeders have moved there or have quit the sport.

Gilliam says cockfighting is just misunderstood.

"I don't know, nobody knows what the laws are," he said. "But I'm not moving. Everyone thinks we're heathens. We're just people."