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TULSA, Okla. (AP) - A federal judge struck down Oklahoma's gay marriage ban Tuesday, but headed off any rush to the altar by setting aside his order while state and local officials complete an appeal.
It was the second time in a month that a federal judge has set aside a deeply conservative state's limits on same-sex marriage, after Utah's ban was reversed in December.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern described Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage as "an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit."
The decision drew criticism from the governor, attorney general and other elected officials in this state known as the buckle of the Bible Belt. A state lawmaker who once said gay people posed a greater threat to the nation than terrorism blasted rulings from "activist judges."
Kern said the ban violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause because it precludes same-sex couples from receiving an Oklahoma marriage license. In his 68-page ruling, Kern frequently referenced U.S. Supreme Court decisions issued last summer on gay marriage. He also took a shot at Oklahoma's high divorce rate, noting that "excluding same-sex couples from marriage has done little to keep Oklahoma families together thus far."
"Exclusion of just one class of citizens from receiving a marriage license based upon the perceived 'threat' they pose to the marital institution is, at bottom, an arbitrary exclusion based upon the majority's disapproval of the defined class," Kern wrote. "It is also insulting to same-sex couples, who are human beings capable of forming loving, committed, enduring relationships."
Republican Gov. Mary Fallin issued a written statement accusing Kern of undermining the will of Oklahoma voters who passed the gay marriage ban by a 3-1 margin in 2004.
"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," the statement said.
Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the Supreme Court had left it to the states to define marriage and that Kern's ruling was "troubling." He said it would likely take another Supreme Court decision to resolve the matter.
Not including Utah and Oklahoma, 27 states still have constitutional prohibitions on same-sex marriage. Four more - Indiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming - do not permit it through state laws.
There are currently 43 same-sex lawsuits in courts, with 27 of those in federal court, said Camilla Taylor, marriage project director at Lambda Legal, a civil rights organization. Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage is the third to be struck down by a federal judge, after California and Utah. State courts also ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in New Mexico in December and New Jersey in October.
Taylor said momentum has been increasing as litigators see that gay-rights groups are winning same-sex marriage cases. She said a new same-sex marriage lawsuit is brought almost every week.
For 17 days, Utah was the 18th state to allow gay couples to wed, after a federal judge there overturned the state's same-sex marriage ban. Hundreds of couples got married before the Supreme Court put a halt to the weddings 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 the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver - the same circuit as Oklahoma.
In both causes, federal judges said the states' gay marriage laws violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
"Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed," Kern wrote. "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."
Tulsa couple Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin, who work at the Tulsa World newspaper, filed the Oklahoma lawsuit along with another same-sex couple in November 2004, shortly after voters approved the constitutional amendment. Their case was the longest-running challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, according to the national gay marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry.
"There's so much emotion, I'm kind of crying right now," Bishop said Tuesday. "It's overwhelming to think that we finally won.
"Sharon and I want to get married here in Oklahoma. We've been together for more than 17 years - it's time. This is something that when I was young, I thought I'd never see in my lifetime."
Tulsa County Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith said there was no way under Oklahoma law for her to give the couple a marriage license. "That's how I became a defendant in the case," she said.
Taylor, with Lambda Legal, said she wasn't sure why the judge's ruling came now, though she noted that he made several references to the Utah case in his ruling.
In 2006, the Tulsa couples' case made its way to the 10th Circuit 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 Smith.
"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."
Associated Press reporters Kristi Eaton, Sean Murphy and Tim Talley contributed from Oklahoma City.
This is a very good thing............
I have seen many comments on this thread, and most of them are an insult or an attack or a distasteful remark towards the political affiliation that the commenter so happens not to share, and it is at times like these that I really feel ashamed to be a human. That is mainly because of the insult aspect; whether it is toward gay people or toward Christians or toward Conservatives and toward Christians: I'd say it is all pretty much equally hateful in this thread; and none of it is true. Every single person on this thread is a person; and I think that if we did not have the context of this article to influence our words, we would all be respectful and friendly to each other, and may even become friends, because all people have here are different opinions and fear that those opinions are going to harm their lives, but they don't. To use a nonpolitical example (I've seen how different opinions are reacted to here), I have met plenty of people who think that Steven Moffat is ruining the show Doctor Who with his complicated plots, which I very much disagree with; but you know what we all want, the show to be excellent. And I don't think it is too much of a stretch to say that everyone here wants to be happy and wants the whole of humanity to be happy; it's just that we've all seen different ways in which we are being made unhappy, and in focusing on how others don't share those exact opinions on the details, we lose sight of the fact that we want life to be better.So I implore people here not to judge anyone by their comments posted here, because each of us is much more than what can be grasped in a (maximum) 3000 character comment from an anonymous profile without the context of their emotional state while writing it. I'd assume for most people here it was some form of Anger. For me it is sadness, which I know is not completely justified or fair to everyone here, but sadness all the same. We sure our weird creatures huh?
Civility does seem to be a sad casualty of the information age. I believe we have forgotten how to agree to disagree.
Yeah--------------Why should we "Straights" be the only ones to be miserable !!!!
if being gay is a "choice" then please, straight people, tell me when you chose to be straight?
If Oklahomans vote 3-1 to bring back Jim Crowe laws does that mean they are Constitutional?
Well, according to some out there in Oklahoma they would look upon that as a ruling in their favor. I guess those judges would not be "activists" to them anymore.
People in this country are free to believe in GOD or not to believe it is their right. If a man or woman wants to enter into a same sex relationship or be joined to gather in marriage what right does any person or persons have to interfere? As I understand it GOD does not force anyone to follow his word, people are free to choose. Also as I understand it if some one does not follow GOD's word they will be held accountable to him not you , I , or we.
well said thank you.he meat heads here will noy get it
I fear that you might be right.
The comments I am seeing here make want to punch myself in the face...repeatedly! Invest in education more so our future generations will be less ignorant!
Okay you people who claim to know why the courts are there....in civil cases, it is, for the most part, to look at those cases brought before them and weigh their merit against the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Amendments to those documents. Over the years, the courts have had pivotal roles in addressing a lot of these cases, and for the most part they have not been the "activist judges" and courts that politicians demonize them to be. Instead the political BS is simply the politicians being self-serving and ratcheting up their bases to serve their own purposes, instead of looking out for all their constituents. So when the judges, with considerable thought put into their rulings (I'll bet most of the people getting bent out of shape have not even read the rulings handed down from the respective judges in the respective cases) make their decisions, what they have done is protect the minorities and their rights from being denied or usurped by the majority. Its amazing how reactionary most dweebs are sitting at their keyboards are and how little they know about the courts, the rulings, the Constitution and the rights guaranteed by that great document and the task ahead of the jurists to try to make decisions based on legal precedents and previous rulings. Its funny too how the same reactions were voiced when the civil rights movement was hot and heavy in the last century, and this country still doesn't have it right, though as imperfect as we are, we continue to make strides to correct past mistakes and renew the journey on the path towards equal rights for all. For something as simple as a legal binding contract between two consenting adults which marriage really is, there's been a lot of people getting excited because of the so-called religious element within it. Folks, the state marries you, the church does not...legally. One cannot get married in a church without having already obtained the marriage license through the state. That's the way it works. Religion has no standing in this matter on any legal basis, like it or not. So too, the church does not divorce two people, the state does. And with the divorce rate in the USA running close to 50%, it is an indictment on those entering into it (and until recently its been all heterosexual) that it is not the pillar and base of American society as some would have others think. Surely there are problems with marriage and the readiness of those two adults to enter into that relationship with a willingness to make it work for better or worse, richer or poorer, etc and approach it with a maturity that will make it last. But the courts are right when it takes states to task that heterosexuals are not the only ones who can make the attempt to have that legal and binding contract. Relax people, gay men and women are not going to affect marriage any more than what heterosexuals have already done to it. For better or worse.
This same sex marriage is a joke. It is abnormal. It is disgusting. All these people have done is turn their back on GOD. HE is the creator of this world and it.s rules. Read the 10 commandments. We are too respect each other and I see no respect in a union like this. I feel these people are using the constitution to get what they want. There is no known gene that explains this. It is a free choice and should be shot down by the Supreme court. I am sure when the constitution was written no one though an issue like this would come up. So therefore no rule or law was written into it. I am sure if this was a known thing down the road a very clear NO to it would appear in the Constitution. Yes I am a Christian and would never disrespect GOD, like this. amen.
I can't see how they can be that way, but at the same time it is not me and I don't have to be around them. Besides, If one guy is hugging another guy, then it frees up one more girl for us guys.