January 14, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
BREAKING: Federal judge strikes down Oklahoma same-sex marriage ban
Oklahoma, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Babymestizo; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A federal judge on Tuesday ruled Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Terence C. Kern of the Northern District of Oklahoma said the state constitutional amendment that says marriage “shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman” violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin and Susan Barton and Gay Phillips challenged the ban shortly after Oklahoma voters approved it in 2004.

Tulsa County Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

“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 U.S. Constitution,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “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 Americans.”

Kern stayed his ruling pending an appeal.

“We are disappointed in the ruling,” said Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris. “We will need to review the decision and talk with our client, Tulsa County Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith, about appeal options.”

Gov. Mary Fallin said the “people of Oklahoma have spoken on this issue,” noting her state’s marriage amendment passed in 2004 with 75 percent support.

“I support the right of Oklahoma’s voters to govern themselves on this and other policy matters,” said Fallin in a statement. “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.”

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt described Kern’s ruling as “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,” said Pruitt in a statement.

Eighteen states and D.C. have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this month blocked any future gay nuptials from taking place in Utah pending the outcome of an appeal of U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby’s Dec. 20 ruling that struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on Jan. 8 said his state would not recognize same-sex marriages performed during this period pending the outcome of his administration’s appeal of Shelby’s ruling.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder two days later announced the federal government will recognize the aforementioned unions. Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler and his counterparts in Maine and Washington subsequently announced their states will follow suit.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said during a Gertrude Stein Democratic Club on Monday the nation’s capital should also recognize same-sex marriages performed in Utah. He said he would consult with D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan on the issue.

“Equality is not just for the coasts anymore,” said Griffin. “Today’s news from Oklahoma shows that time has come for fairness and dignity to reach every American in all 50 states.”

National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown on Tuesday renewed his call for a federal constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman.

“The decision by U.S District Court Judge Terence Kern in Oklahoma is the latest in a string of examples of the dangers posed to state marriage laws when the avenue of debate is the federal court system,” he said in a statement. “We need firm legislative action to protect the rights of the states and their citizens to make their own determinations regarding the definition of marriage without interference from federal appointees either in the courts or within the executive branch.”

Pruitt conceded the U.S. Supreme Court will likely consider the constitutionality of state same-sex marriage bans. He noted Utah’s gay nuptial case is before the same federal appellate court is identical to that on which Kern ruled.

“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,” said Pruitt.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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