The same-sex marriage ban has been struck down in Oklahoma, thanks to a federal judge deeming it unconstitutional. The move comes weeks after Utah officials put a stay of proceedings on further same-sex unions in the state, and after the U.S. Justice Department declared the marriages that did occur were valid.
Justice Terrence Kern said the Oklahoma law limiting marriage to heterosexual couples went against the U.S. Constitution, thereby giving a shot in the arm to those who support same-sex unions across the nation. He did not however, say that the court would immediately enforce the regulation, pending resolution of a similar ban to Utah’s. Justice Kern’s decision means that the way is not yet paved for a flood of same-sex unions to occur as it did in Utah when Justice Robert J. Shelby deemed a ban on same-sex unions in that state was unconstitutional.
Like Justice Shelby, Justice Kern referenced the 14th Amendment as fundamental to all Americans, and that a ban on same-sex marriages would dispose of that particular amendment. The case was first brought forward by a pair of lesbian couples in 2004, who celebrated Justice Kern’s ruling on Tuesday.
Sharon Baldwin, one of the four women who brought the complaint forward, said their group was ecstatic over the decision. While the group understands that same-sex marriage has not yet been cleared to occur in Oklahoma, they understand Justice Kern’s decision is an important first step in the case.
In writing his decision, Justice Kern noted that each of the couples involved in the suit have been in committed relationships for decades, plan on retiring together and simply wish to be recognized as a married couple in their home state. He said that these couples have been denied that right without any real justification.
However, the president of the National Organization for Marriage, Brian Brown, was not impressed by the ruling. With a same-sex marriage ban being struck down in Oklahoma, Judge Kern was striking at the heart of state marriage laws themselves. He argues that the avenue of debate for state marriage laws should not be in the courts, but in legislature.
Governor Mary Fallin said that the ban was passed nine years ago with 75 percent voter support, and was disappointed by the judge’s decision. She views the matter of marriage as a policy decision, and said she wants to honor her electorate’s rights to govern themselves over matters such as marriage.
However, the lesbian couples at the heart of the matter say that Justice Kern’s decision has left emotions running high among them. After a protracted court battle, Mary Bishop, Baldwin’s partner, says it’s stunning to realize that they won the decision, and that she looks forward to marrying her partner. The couple has undergone same-sex marriage in Canada, among other places.
As the same-sex marriage ban is struck down in Oklahoma, other same-sex couples in equally conservative states will be eyeing the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, who is working on a determination of the fate of same-sex unions. Coincidentally, the 10th Circuit is also the same court that oversees Oklahoma.
By Christina St-Jean