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Topics In the News
Oklahoma Marriage Ban Declared Unconstitutional
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 01/14/14
Last updated on: 01/14/14
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On January 14, 2014, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern declared that Oklahoma's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage violates the equal protection guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. After concluding that the ban on same-sex marriage was motivated by impermissible "moral disapproval" of homosexuality and furthers no legitimate state interest, Judge Kern declared it unconstitutional and then stayed his ruling pending a decision by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals where it is certain to be appealed.

Judge Kern, who was appointed to the Tulsa-based United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma by President Clinton in 1994, described Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage, which was adopted by referendum in 2004, as "an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit."

The decision in a case that was filed almost ten years ago follows closely on the December 20, 2013 ruling by Judge Robert Shelby, which struck down Utah's similar ban on same-sex marriage. Judge Shelby's ruling is stayed pending review by the Tenth Circuit.

One of the most interesting aspect of Judge Kern's opinion is that it cites the legislative and electoral history of the prohibition. From the remarks made by legislators and other supporters of the state constitutional amendment, it is apparent that the only motivation for the ban was religious-based disapproval of homosexuals and homosexuality. As the Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas, moral disapproval of homosexuality is not a permissible state interest.

Perhaps most significantly, however, Judge Kern notes that the Supreme Court ruling in Windsor v. U.S.A., issued in June 2013, has fundamentally altered the legal landscape in which same-sex marriage must be considered.

As Erick Echolm reports in the New York Times gay rights advocates in Oklahoma rejoiced at the decision.

"We're jubilant, we're over the moon," said one of the plaintiffs in the case, known as Bishop v. U.S.A., Sharon Baldwin, 45, who has lived with her partner and co-plaintiff, Mary Bishop, 52, for 17 years.

The two both work as editors at The Tulsa World newspaper and had just arrived at work on Tuesday afternoon when the city editor told them of the decision. "We're taking the day off," Ms. Baldwin said.

Predictably, the decision has been savagely attacked by Oklahoma officials, including Republican Governor Mary Falin, and anti-gay activists, but has been hailed by the Human Rights Campaign and Freedom to Marry.

Judge Kern's decision may be read here.

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