Saying that it is contrary to Scriptures and disregards a statewide vote, many church leaders across Oklahoma said they are extremely disappointed with a recent federal ruling against Oklahoma's same-sex marriage ban.
“As a leader in the religious community, I'm obligated — I'm mandated — to uphold what the Scriptures say,” said the Rev. Robert Hayes Jr., bishop of the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference and Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.
However, several religious leaders across the state said their congregations rejoiced at the news of the ruling declaring the state's same-sex marriage prohibition as unconstitutional.
“I think it's cause for celebration,” the Rev. Don Heath, senior pastor of Edmond Trinity Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), said Wednesday.
“I'm glad to see that long-term relationships will be recognized, whether they're gay or straight.”
And some leaders who advocate for the state's gay community also expressed their excitement about what they deem is another step toward same-sex marriage being legalized in Oklahoma.
Kristin Davis, president of Woven, an Oklahoma City-based company providing legal and financial resources to lesbians and gays around the country, said the federal court's ruling signals to the rest of America that Oklahoma is progressing.
“I want to help drive us toward change, but we need a big push to get us in the right direction so that we will not be looked upon as the buckle of the Bible Belt that hasn't moved forward since the 1950s,” Davis said.
Tuesday, a federal judge in Tulsa struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. Senior U.S. district Judge Terrence C. Kern prevented his ruling from going into effect while the case makes its way through appeals.
Surprised by decision
United Methodist leader Hayes said Kern's ruling surprised him because Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a statewide constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage in 2004.
He said Scripture — not societal norms — dictate how the Church should respond to issues of today.
“The Church finds itself in a precarious position. We are taught Scriptures that God created a man for a woman and we are bound to uphold and to share what the Scripture says to us,” Hayes said. “Society is ever-changing, ever-evolving but there are basic laws by God that do not change — they do not change with the wind.”
He was joined by a Southern Baptist leader and Catholic leader in expressing displeasure over the ruling.
“The ruling by Judge Kern, which is stayed and has no immediate effect and will be appealed, flies in the face of the biblical and historical meaning of marriage, the wisdom of the ages and the resounding democratic choice of the people of this great state,” the Rev. Anthony Jordan, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said in a statement.
The Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley, archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, also shared his thoughts in a statement.
“This ruling is cause for great concern,” Coakley said. “It thwarts the common good, which depends upon the willingness of societal leaders to uphold basic truths about our humanity. The reality of marriage as ‘the union of one man and one woman' is just such a basic truth. The majority of Oklahomans recognize this. That Judge Kern chooses to ignore it is deeply disappointing.”
Ruling seen as positive
Meanwhile, The Rev. Justin Lindstrom, dean of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, said he views the federal judge's ruling as positive.
“I'm excited about the ruling because I think it is a win for equal rights,” Lindstrom said. “It won't destroy the integrity of marriage. I think it will actually build on it — the importance of recognizing relationships.”
Lindstrom said last year, his historic downtown Oklahoma City church went through a monthslong process to gain the approval of Oklahoma's Episcopal bishop to host same-gender covenant relationship blessings at the church.
Such blessing ceremonies would not be recognized as legal marriage because of Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage.
Someone who said he was not shocked by Tuesday's ruling was the Rev. Steve Kern, senior pastor of Olivet Baptist Church and a member of a group of clergy who recently held a prayer vigil outside the Civic Center to protest a satirical play featuring homosexual characters.
He said he was disappointed in the ruling because it disregards the same-sex marriage ban approved by Oklahoma voters.
“The fact of the matter is 76 percent of the voters voted to keep traditional marriage as the law of our state. The will of the people is being overruled. Our Constitution says ‘we the people,'” Kern said.
Meanwhile, Heath, with Edmond Trinity Christian Church, said the issue of same-sex marriage is a “justice” issue, regardless of how some religions view it.
“The state provides economic benefits for long-term committed relationships and they should do it for both gay and straight people,” he said.
In 2012, Heath's Edmond church formally became an Open and Affirming congregation recognized by the Gay Lesbian and Affirming Disciples (GLAD) Alliance, an organization independent of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination. As such, the church made it known that it welcomed members of the gay community and Heath had no plans to preach against homosexuality.
Vered Harris, rabbi of Temple B'nai Israel, a Reform Judaism congregation in Oklahoma City, said she was happy with the ruling.
“Reform Judaism is in support of equal rights for all people including those people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender,” Harris said. “Just because the majority is in favor of prohibiting gay marriage, that does not make the majority opinion just.”.
Optimistic about the future
Another same-sex marriage proponent, the Rev. Scott Hamilton, former associate pastor of Church of the Open Arms, said “The feeling with the LGBT folks in the last 24 hours has been euphoria but frankly, there has been a feeling more important than that and that is hopefulness.”
Hamilton, who is executive director of the gay and lesbian advocacy group called the Cimarron Alliance, said he isn't concerned that same-sex marriages can't be performed immediately in the state because he is optimistic that this will happen soon.
“While we can't go get a marriage license today, we are light years ahead of where we were on Monday,” he said.