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Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Oklahoma

Part 2: 2014: District Court's ruling (Cont'd).
Future impact. Reactions pro and con.

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This topic is a continuation of the previous essay

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2014-JAN-14: Federal District Court finally makes a ruling (Cont'd):

Judge Kern's conclusions on the topic of the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment is of particular importance. He wrote:

"The Supreme Court has not expressly reached the issue of whether state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution. However, Supreme Court law now prohibits states from passing laws that are born of animosity against homosexuals, extends constitutional protection to the moral and sexual choices of homosexuals, and prohibits the federal government from treating opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages differently. There is no precise legal label for what has occurred in Supreme Court jurisprudence beginning with Romer in 1996 and culminating in Windsor in 2013, but this Court knows a rhetorical shift when it sees one.

Against this backdrop, the Court’s task is to determine whether Part A of the Oklahoma Constitutional Amendment [in 2004] deprives a class of Oklahoma citizens -- namely, same-sex couples desiring an Oklahoma marriage license -- of equal protection of the law. Applying deferential rationality review, the Court searched for a rational link between exclusion of this class from civil marriage and promotion of a legitimate governmental objective. Finding none, the Court’s rationality review reveals Part A as an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit.

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. The Bishop couple has been in a loving, committed relationships for many years. 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. Part A of the Oklahoma Constitutional Amendment excludes the Bishop couple, and all otherwise eligible same-sex couples, from this privilege without a legally sufficient justification." 1 (Emphasis and hyperlink by us)

However, Judge Kern did not support the plaintiffs' request that Section 2 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) be declared unconstitutional. This is the section that allows states to refuse to recognize the validity of same-sex marriages performed in other states. 2

Sara Posner of Religion Dispatches Magazine commented:

"Judge Kern wrote, ' This Court interprets Windsor as an equal protection case holding that DOMA drew an unconstitutional line between lawfully married opposite-sex couples and lawfully married same-sex couples.' The Windsor decision, though, was not based on equal protection principles but rather on DOMA's ' blatant improper purpose and animus,' which ' was to impose inequality.' While Windsor requires some caution in permitting states to regulate marriage, he went on, it also demands that ' courts reviewing marriage regulations, by either the state or federal government, must be wary of whether 'defending' traditional marriage is a guise for impermissible discrimination against same-sex couples.

That is the heart of the question: whether states can invoke 'Judeo-Christian' or 'traditional' or 'family' values to justify bans on same-sex marriage. In answering that question with an unequivocal 'no,' Judge Kern provided a detailed legislative history of Oklahoma's 2004 passage of its ban, noting that legislators' statements clearly demonstrated that 'exclusion of the defined class was not a hidden or ulterior motive; it was consistently communicated to Oklahoma citizens as a justification' for the law." 3

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2014-JAN-14: The future impact of the District Court's ruling:

Following an almost identical ruling by a District Court in Utah, some 1,300 same-sex couples descended on their local court offices to purchase marriage licenses during the following two weeks. This did not happen in Oklahoma, because the District Court Judge invoked a stay of his ruling which will remain in place until an appeal of the ruling is completed by the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

By coincidence, this is the same Court of Appeals to which the Utah case is also being appealed. Hearings will be held on 2014-APR-17, one week after the Utah case. The Utah and Oklahoma cases will be heard by the same randomly selected panel of 10th Circuit judges. The two cases may well be merged in the future, since their goals are essentially identical.

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2014-JAN-14: Reactions to the District Court's ruling:

The 68 page text of Judge Kern's ruling is available online. 4 It is well worth reading.

Many individuals and groups who promote marriage equality were very pleased with the ruling:

  • Greg Botelho of CNN wrote:

    "Susan Barton ... told CNN that she is 'absolutely thrilled' with the decision, saying it was worth the long fight. She and her partner, Gay Phillips, have lived in Oklahoma for more than 50 years. They have been together for the past three decades and got a civil union in Vermont and have marriage licenses issued from Vancouver, British Columbia, and San Francisco."

    'You can't stay in this for nine years and not have faith,' Barton said. '... I feel like we are already married, (but) I want our state to recognize our marriage'." 5

  • Chad Griffin, president of the LGBT-positive group, Human Rights Campaign (HRC) wrote:

    "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.  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 [LGBT] 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." 6

The two "historic victories" at the U.S. Supreme Court to which Griffin referred are:

  • Wilson v. United States which declared Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. It made some 1,138 federal marriage programs, benefits, and protections available to same-sex couples that were previously available only to opposite-sex couples.

  • Hollingsworth v. Perry which legalized SSM in California.

HRC also stated:

"... the ruling stands as a beacon of hope to Oklahomans and all LGBT Americans still fighting for equality.

This latest case is a clear sign we're moving toward a more just and equal America. An America where a couple's geography doesn't determine their rights –- or their value as a citizen in the eyes of the law."

  • Governor Mary Fallin (R) released a statement about the court ruling, saying:

    "In 2004, the people of Oklahoma voted to amend the state's constitution to define marriage as ‘the union of one man and one woman.’ That amendment passed with 75 percent support. The people of Oklahoma have spoken on this issue. I support the right of Oklahoma's voters to govern themselves on this and other policy matters. I am disappointed in the judge's ruling and troubled that the will of the people has once again been ignored by the federal government." 7

  • Oklahoma Attorney General Scitt Oryutt's office issued a statement saying:

    "It is a troubling decision. As the Supreme Court recently noted in the Windsor case, it is up to the states to decide how to define marriage, not the federal government. There is a case involving the State of Utah currently pending before the 10th Circuit that is identical to the case in Tulsa. The issue most likely will end up at the U.S. Supreme Court and the outcome will dictate whether Oklahoma’s constitutional provision will be upheld." 8

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "E. Equal Protection Conclusion," Pages 66 & 67, Think Progress.org, at: http://thinkprogress.org/
  2. Greg Botelho, "Federal judge: Oklahoma ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional," CNN Justice, 2014-JAN-14, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  3. Sarah Posner, "In Oklahoma, Another Court Against Using Religion as Justification for Discrimination," Religion Dispatches, 2014-JAN-22, at: http://www.religiondispatches.org/
  4. The text of Judge Kern's ruling is online at Think Progress.org, at: http://thinkprogress.org/
  5. Greg Botelho, "Federal judge: Oklahoma ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional," CNN Justice, 2014-JAN-14, at: http://www.cnn.com/
  6. "U.S. District Judge Rules Oklahoma Ban on Marriage Equality Unconstitutional," Human Rights Campaign, 2014-JAN=-14, at: https://www.hrc.org/
  7. Andy Towle, "Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin 'troubled' by judge's ruling striking down gay marriage ban," Towleroad, 2014-JAN-14, at: http://www.towleroad.com/
  8. Chris Casteel, "U.S. judge strikes down Oklahoma's ban on gay marriage," NewsOK, 2014-JAN-14, at: http://newsok.com/

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Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Menu > here

Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2014-JAN-16
Latest update: 2014-APR-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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