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U.S. judge strikes down Oklahoma's ban on gay marriage

by Chris Casteel Modified: January 14, 2014 at 5:35 pm •  Published: January 14, 2014

In this Oct. 10, 2013 photo, Sharon Baldwin, left, and Mary Bishop speak at East Central University in Ada, Okla., as part of the ECU Gay-Straight Alliance's National Coming Out Day event. Bishop and Baldwin are two of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in November 2004 in federal court in Tulsa challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act and the Oklahoma Constitution's ban on same-sex marriage. (AP Photo/Eric Turner)
In this Oct. 10, 2013 photo, Sharon Baldwin, left, and Mary Bishop speak at East Central University in Ada, Okla., as part of the ECU Gay-Straight Alliance's National Coming Out Day event. Bishop and Baldwin are two of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in November 2004 in federal court in Tulsa challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act and the Oklahoma Constitution's ban on same-sex marriage. (AP Photo/Eric Turner)

U.S. Senior Judge Terence Kern struck down Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage on Tuesday, saying it “intentionally discriminates against same-sex couples desiring an Oklahoma marriage license without a legally sufficient justification.”

In his 68-page, opinion, Kern said courts reviewing marriage regulations “must be wary of whether “defending” traditional marriage is a guise for impermissible discrimination against same-sex” couples.

Oklahoma’s law he said violated the equal protection rights of the Tulsa couple that brought the lawsuit nine years ago.

Kern called it a “a total exclusion of only one group.”

And he said, “Excluding same-sex couples from marriage has done little to keep Oklahoma families together thus far, as Oklahoma consistently has one of the highest divorce rates in the country.”

Because the U.S. Supreme Court has held up marriages in Utah, where a federal judge recently made a similar ruling, Kern issued a stay in the Oklahoma case so same-sex couples can’t marry while appeals are pending.

Byron Babione, an attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the Tulsa County Clerk in the case, said, “Marriage expresses the truth that men and women bring distinct, irreplaceable gifts to family life. Understanding that truth, the voters of Oklahoma approved a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

“The ruling in this case ignores that time-tested and rational definition of marriage — affirmed by 76 percent of Oklahoma voters — and replaces it with the recently conceived notion that marriage is little more than special government recognition for close relationships. A court should not impose this novel view of marriage on the people of Oklahoma. We will review the decision with our client, the Tulsa County clerk, and consider her next steps.”

Update: Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin's office has issued the following statement regarding Judge Kern's ruling:

“In 2004, the people of Oklahoma voted to amend the state's constitution to define marriage as ‘the union of one man and one woman.’ That amendment passed with 75 percent support.

“The people of Oklahoma have spoken on this issue. I support the right of 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.”

Update: Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office has issued the following statement:

“It is a troubling decision,” Attorney General Scott Pruitt said. “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. There is a case involving the State of Utah currently pending before the 10th Circuit that is identical to the case in Tulsa. 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.”


Previously: Utah decision spurs arguments in Oklahoma same-sex marriage case

Editor's note: Read U.S. Senior District Judge Terence Kern's ruling.

by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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