First Utah, now Oklahoma. Federal District Judge Terence Kern ruled Tuesday that the state’s ban on marriage equality violated the U.S. Constitution, calling the ban “an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit” based on “moral disapproval.” The ruling strikes down a state constitutional amendment enshrining the ban on same-sex weddings.
The ruling came in the case of two couples–Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin, and Gay Phillips and Susan Barton–who filed their challenge to the amendment in 2004, shortly after voters overwhelmingly passed it. The women got little attention for their bravery, as most of the focus went to the challenge to California’s Proposition 8.
That changed on Tuesday. “We’re jubilant, we’re over the moon,” said Sharon Baldwin.
Unfortunately, the ruling doesn’t mean marriage equality is now legal in Oklahoma. Kern issued a stay, meaning that the ban remains in place while the state files its appeal.
Kern forcefully argued that it doesn’t matter if most Oklahomans think marriage equality should be forbidden. “Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed,” Kern said. “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.”
“Equality is not just for the coasts anymore, and today’s news from Oklahoma shows that time has come for fairness and dignity to reach every American in all 50 states,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement.
Coming on the heels of the Utah ruling, the Oklahoma decision further complicates the Supreme Court’s “let the states decide” strategy behind its DOMA ruling. If the justices thought that the issue would work itself out over the course of years, as the public became accustomed to the idea of marriage equality, they were mistaken. It seems likely that the Court will have to take up the issue again soon to resolve once and for all whether the piecemeal approach is at all viable.
Photo credit: Freedom to Marry