Oklahoma’s gay marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Terrence Kern handed down the ruling in a lawsuit filed by two same-sex couples. Kern immediately stayed his ruling pending appeals, meaning gay marriages won’t happen in Oklahoma right away.
The gay couples had sued for the right to marry and to have a marriage from another jurisdiction recognized in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma ruling comes about a month after a federal judge in Utah overturned that state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Hundreds of couples got married there before the U.S. Supreme Court intervened, putting a halt to the weddings until the courts sort out the matter. Kern, whom Fox 25 reports is a Clinton, Okla. native, cited that case in issuing the stay of his own ruling.
The constitutional amendment approved by Oklahoma voters says marriage in the state consists only of the union of one man and one woman. Kerns said the measure violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause by precluding same-sex couples from receiving an Oklahoma marriage license.
“Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed. It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions. Therefore, the majority view in Oklahoma must give way to individual constitutional rights,” Kern wrote.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office, which has supported the law, did not immediately have a comment on the ruling.
But supporters and detractors of same-sex marriage were quick to weigh in on Kern’s ruling.
“Judge Kern has come to the conclusion that so many have before him –- that the fundamental equality of lesbian and gay couples is guaranteed by the United States Constitution,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “With last year’s historic victories at the Supreme Court guiding the way, it is clear that we are on a path to full and equal citizenship for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. Equality is not just for the coasts anymore, and today’s news from Oklahoma shows that time has come for fairness and dignity to reach every American in all 50 states.”
Meanwhile, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins slammed the ruling, calling it a “serious threat to free speech and religious liberty.”
“This activist judge is overrunning both the constitution and the rule of law in a drive to fundamentally alter America’s moral, political and cultural landscape,” Perkins said in a statement. “He is substituting his own ideology for the three-quarters of Oklahomans who voted to preserve marriage in their constitution as it has always been defined.”
Not including Utah and Oklahoma, 27 states still have constitutional prohibitions on same-sex marriage. Four more states — Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming — do not permit it through state laws.
For 17 days, Utah was the 18th state to allow gay couples to wed. But the Supreme Court put a halt to them earlier this month by granting the state a stay on a federal judge’s ruling that two other courts previously denied. The fate of gay marriage in Utah now rests in the hands of a federal appeals court in Denver.
Tulsa couple Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin had filed the Oklahoma lawsuit along with another same-sex couple in November 2004, shortly after Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly passed the constitutional amendment. The couples were seeking the right to marry and to have a marriage from another jurisdiction recognized in Oklahoma.
The judge waited nine years before issuing his ruling, a striking contrast to the spate of lawsuits filed across the country following last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that required the federal government to recognize legal same-sex marriages.
“The Bishop couple has been in a loving, committed relationships for many years,” Kern wrote. “They own property together, wish to retire together, wish to make medical decisions for one another, and wish to be recognized as a married couple with all its attendant rights and responsibilities.”
In 2006, the Tulsa couples’ case made its way to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals after the district court denied the governor of Oklahoma and the state attorney general’s motion to dismiss the case. The appeals court ruled in 2009 that the couple lacked standing, so the two couples filed an amended complaint removing the governor and attorney general and adding the Tulsa County Court Clerk, since that is the person who issues marriage licenses.