TULSA, Okla. (AP) — 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 last month.
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.”
The ruling 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.”
The judge’s sixty-eight page ruling is here. If upheld, it would add Oklahoma to the expanding list of states where same-sex marriage has become legal, either by court ruling, state legislation, or ballot measure.
Without counting Oklahoma, and without counting Utah, where a judge issued a similar ruling last month, 17 states and Washington, D.C., now allow such marriages. The Utah ruling has been blocked by the Supreme Court while an appeal in that case goes ahead in the Tenth Circuit Court. Judge Kern noted, in delaying the Oklahoma ruling, that he was following the Supreme Court’s lead.
“Equal protection,” Judge Kern wrote, “is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed. It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions.”
Like it or not, the SCOTUS set the table for these rulings last summer. Now they will have to take up the cases and rule.
Judge Kern took note of a string of decisions by the Supreme Court favoring gay rights, between 1996 and 2013, and said that, while “there is no precise legal label for what has occurred,” his court “knows a rhetorical shift when it sees one.”