TULSA, Okla. – 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.”
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.
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.