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BREAKING: Federal judge rules Okla. gay marriage ban unconstitutional

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Updated: 9:00 p.m. CST

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.”

U.S. District Judge Terence Kern

U.S. District Judge Terence Kern

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 o f 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.

Okla gay marriage

Eric Turner, AP
Sharon Baldwin (left) and Mary Bishop are two of four plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“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.”

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98 more reader comments:

  1. Bring that ruling to Texas please!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:18pm
  2. How is it looking in TX? Any rumblings through the grapevine?

    Replied on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:34pm
  3. (Didn't realize my girlfriend was still logged into her Facebook on my phone. So if this looks weird, sorry about that.) Two same sex couples did file a federal lawsuit in November but I don't think the case has started yet. They said it might start this month. Fingers crossed.

    Replied on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:47pm
  4. No fucking way. Victory in the south

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:19pm
  5. Garrett Piersa

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:19pm
  6. Let’s go Kansas

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:19pm
  7. And bring it to Michigan, too!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:19pm
  8. Boom!! Trickle down is finally working…come on down to TX!!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:20pm
  9. You’re next TEXAS

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:20pm
  10. Bring that awesomeness to Wisconsin.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:20pm
  11. Great news!!!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:20pm
  12. Right winners keep getting smacked down over marriage equality. Don’t ya just love it?

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:21pm
  13. Holy Bajeezus, that’s where I live! Whooooo. Oklahoma is soooo backward when it comes to all avenues of equality; racial, religious, gender… someone needs to force it!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:21pm
  14. pull my finger.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:21pm
  15. Wohoo…

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:22pm
  16. state by state by state we WILL have our rights.We will NO LONGER be second class citizens.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:22pm
  17. I’m in Oklahoma too..

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:22pm
  18. That’s 18 now, right?

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:22pm
  19. HOT DOG!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:23pm
  20. Why do they keep fighting it, love and equality will prevail

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:23pm
  21. Brava Oklahoma!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:23pm
  22. f’g idiots!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:24pm
  23. Oklahomo

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:24pm
  24. help us over rule indiana’s law

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:24pm
  25. Another state joins up!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:25pm
  26. My uncle is a judge in Oklahoma. I really hope he can help move this along.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:25pm
  27. Someone please dumb this down for me did it go good or did that American thing ban another gay couples from the right to express their love

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:27pm
  28. Congrats OK from Canada!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:28pm
  29. Katie and Jade – this is for you!!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:28pm
  30. Awesome! :)

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:29pm
  31. 19???

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:29pm
  32. Another one bites the dust!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:29pm
  33. Good luck getting those hillbillies to accept this.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:29pm
  34. Someone out there has a brain…God Bless you…wahooooo

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:30pm
  35. BOOM, BABY!!!!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:34pm
  36. ah win

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:35pm
  37. Way to go Oklahoma!!!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:35pm
  38. Hope I live to see marriage equality in all 50 states

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:36pm
  39. jump on board, kansas. time to right the ship. equality for ALL LGBT!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:37pm
  40. Come on ks please

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:37pm
  41. 1 by 1 here we go!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:38pm
  42. Great. It is awesome.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:40pm
  43. Wonderful News. Love will always conquer hatred. Its about time someone in Oklahoma stood up for Equality.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:41pm
  44. Yes, yes, yes!!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:41pm
  45. Haha OK. is soon becoming more and more tolerant. Soon there will be a satanist statue to piss off the right wing conservative christians. Now to piss them off even more, WE GOT GAY MARRIAGE! :D

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:42pm
  46. We are coming to ya, Amanda!!! ;-)

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:42pm
  47. sad that they are taking this kind of ideology, that instead of advancing humanity, takes us back in time. :/

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:44pm
  48. woo hoo!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:44pm
  49. GA soon, I hope!! Someone needs to challenge it here!!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:44pm
  50. Needs a federal lawsuit for TX – and then needs someone to remind them of Equal protection guaranteed by the US Constitution!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:45pm
  51. I just seen that and was wondering if it was real! I think it’s awesome Leeanna Hale, come on up… It’s pretty boring here though. Lol

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:45pm
  52. Damn….. lol watch this happen to more states

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:46pm
  53. Finally, doing something right!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:48pm
  54. Damn… first Utah and then Oklahoma lol this makes me believe that the south may soon have no choice vut to like with gay marriage soon

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:50pm
  55. If this can be done state by state, it can be done FEDERALLY! This is like ripping a Band-Aid of slowly! We need a sweeping ruling once and for all.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:52pm
  56. J.b. Williams YES!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:54pm
  57. FINALLY! I’ve been waiting on this. :) Good job, Oklahoma!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:54pm
  58. Oh the cowboy and the farmer should shack up!!!!!!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:55pm
  59. Come on Louisiana

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:55pm
  60. Eric B Larson: If you have something to say about hillbillies, say it. Don’t try and be funny about it.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:55pm
  61. They can do whatever they want and the world will not stop turning ..

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:57pm
  62. Soon, all states with anti-equality laws will have them struck down! Keep up the great work!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:57pm
  63. Ok come on PA anytime now

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 10:59pm
  64. Vicky, sadly we aren't going to progress until Corbett is out of office. He is a boil that needs to be lanced.

    Replied on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:01pm
  65. constitutional amendments are being found to be unconstitutional … here come the southern/western states ;)

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:01pm
  66. oh fuck that judge

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:01pm
  67. This should be a fun one to watch! *grabs popcorn* This and that Baphomet statue next to the Ten Commandments outside the state house? Crazy Christian homophobes are gonna flip!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:01pm
  68. Oh wow that’s great news

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:05pm
  69. Gay marriage is ok in my book everyone else can fuck off

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:06pm
  70. So they did they pass it for sure

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:06pm
  71. I wouldn’t get too happy about this till the fat lady actually sings and hoping when and if she does she deafens that Adulterous Witch Fallin! Cause that witch will fight this till the end! Make no mistake about it!

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:06pm
  72. Yay!! :-)

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:13pm
  73. Stayed pending appeal. When it does come to this backward state it will be a major victory.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:14pm
  74. I’m from Oklahoma and I’m not holding my breath on this one. Too many closed minded people here. It’ll be appealed . I hate this state.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:18pm
  75. The appealed in Utah, with the state refusing to acknowledge any marriages. Federal court shot that down, they will be recognized. The state can try, but the state will lose. :)

    Replied on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 12:08am
  76. The Old South will on the issue of Marriage Equality. Please pray for us still trapped behind the Pine Curtain. —-He has heard our crieshttp://youtu.be/8Oh1eAJi8z4

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:18pm
  77. Bobbye… Not so much. OKLAHOMA has one of the best gay communities around…. of course we are not New York or California but Oklahoma is becoming more n more tolerable with people of a different sexual preference…… me. I had no choice to move here…. my dad dragged me here when I was little n I agree I may not like this state n I do hate it here cause Oklahoma is not me…… I happen to be gay n I have changed a lot of people’s minds about people who are gay…. I went to a small town school with a lot of red necks n close minded people but half way through my high school year…. people started liking me n saying sorry for putting me through hell n my friends ask me how did you do it…. you always stay true to you n you will be fine but long story short……. federal law trumps state law n also we had our first gay marriage last year in either November or December of 2013 n they were Indian n also Indian law trumps state law but Oklahoma is my home n if Oklahoma becomes another state that allows same sex marriage then so be it if not…. it’s lot the end of the world but Oklahoma is starting to not be behind the times n the people here are starting to view thing a little different not all people are bit there are that very few in the crowd that don’t judge people due to them being judged themselves for who they are

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:27pm
  78. Your comment was great but even when you spell every word, why do you purposely use "n" in place of "and?"

    Replied on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 1:17am
  79. A nice comment like this and you are going to criticize the fact that n was used instead of and. I get it but it must be a boring night for you. A lot worse things could have been written.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 1:22am
  80. They are arresting Gays in Nigeria and throwing them in prison.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:27pm
  81. Jarrett already flipped if you know what I mean. LOL

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:29pm
  82. Michigan, get with the times

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:40pm
  83. Yeeeeaaaaaaaahhhhhhh

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:41pm
  84. That was a very long opinion to read through! Can’t wait for SCOTUS to clear it all up with the UT case.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:49pm
  85. That’s awesome. The dominos are starting to fall.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:56pm
  86. Long before Barrack Obama entered politics, long before anti-semitism and antiliberalism had become battle cries for the Religious Right and Tea-Party followers and the Patriots etc, the American Government’s experiment in democracy and social tolerance was steadily undermined by distrust, injustice, and violence. One is almost tempted to say that the President of the United States, the Supreme Court as well as Congress itself did not bring America down; they merely saved it from suicide, by murdering it themselves. It was bankrupt long before the Christian Right appointed themselves as America’s savior against children, adults and eldely who demand as GLBT, equality under the laws of this country.” NOW read and be educated what the Nazis did to GLBT in Richard Plant’s book The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War against homosexuals.

    And tell me that the amended quote from page 23, isn’t just EXACTLY what the Christian Right wants to do to GLBT. They want to annihilate GLBT, by genetics, incarcerations, criminalizing us, and maiming/murdering us. GENOCIDE!! This is their God’s Love? No this is their agenda! They can’t do it here in America (yet) but they have exported their Fear and Hate to Russia, to Nigeria etc.

    Posted on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 11:58pm
  87. :) there may be hope for us yet.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 12:17am
  88. Yes!

    Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 12:20am
  89. Tennessee Are You Listening!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 12:23am
  90. hard to believe in this redneck state!

    Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 12:25am
  91. There will always be hope….. just have to believe in change n Oklahoma is starting to change

    Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 12:39am
  92. Bring this to Ohio and ALL the others!

    Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 12:46am
  93. Dustin…… it’s a habit for me to do so and also I was typing super fast so I wasn’t paying attention to my words n also auto correct kinda sucks so I just say n instead of and but thank you

    Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 1:38am
  94. Indeed, this is very interesting to watch, but I don’t have a lot of trust in your supreme court… More often than not, justices aren’t ruling with the constitution in mind but rather with their ideology. Which is kindda sad.

    In Canada, it’s actually the prime minister’s initiative that passed with a majority a bill in 2005, recognizing same sex marriages throughout the country. Before that, it had made it to provinces’ superior courts. We used to be cool here in Canada :)

    Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 1:54am
  95. Is this a thing now? Why not just strike down on all the bans at once?~ ;D

    Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 2:06am
  96. Welcome To Oklahomo :*

    Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 3:00am
  97. The only state where not one district voted for Obama. Not good for gay rights.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 3:29am
  98. This is great news but I feel like its going to be like the Utah situation and get put on hold again

    Posted on Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 4:14am