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Federal Judge Strikes Down Oklahoma Ban On Gay Marriage

Saying Oklahoma's ban on gay marriage is "arbitrary" and "irrational," a federal judge ruled the ban violated the constitution and it should be struck down.

U.S. Senior District Judge Terence Kern, however, put a hold on his ruling, pending an appeal. This means gay marriages will not begin immediately in the state.

Kern said Part A of the Oklahoma Constitutional Amendment — which stipulates marriage in the state should only consist of "one man and one woman" — "violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by precluding same-sex couples from receiving an Oklahoma marriage license."

Kern acknowledged that the Supreme Court has never specifically ruled on how bans on gay marriage relate to the Fourteenth Amendment. That's the case even when the high court decided United States v. Windsor, which overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which similarly defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

"However, Supreme Court law now prohibits states from passing laws that are born of animosity against homosexuals, extends constitutional protection to the moral and sexual choices of homosexuals, and prohibits the federal government from treating opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages differently," Kern writes. "There is no precise legal label for what has occurred in Supreme Court jurisprudence beginning with Romer in 1996 and culminating in Windsor in 2013, but this Court knows a rhetorical shift when it sees one."

Because of that, Kern reviewed the case under the Equal Protection clause and found that banning gay marriage in Oklahoma deprives one class of Oklahoma citizens of a governmental benefit for no good reason.

"The Bishop couple has been in a loving, committed relationships for many years," Kern writes about two of the plaintiffs. "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. Part A of the Oklahoma Constitutional Amendment excludes the Bishop couple, and all otherwise eligible same-sex couples, from this privilege without a legally sufficient justification."

Kern's decision comes less than a month after U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby struck down Utah's constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Shelby did not issue a stay of his decision, so gay marriages were held in the state, until the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling halting the ceremonies. Utah is currently appealing Shelby's decision before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

Update at 6:40 p.m. ET. Disappointed In The Judge's Ruling:

In a statement, Gov. Mary Fallin said she was "disappointed" in the judge's ruling. She went on:

"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 at 6:46 p.m. ET. Guaranteed By The Constitution:

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin praised the decision saying in a statement:

"Judge Kern has come to the conclusion that so many have before him – that the fundamental equality of lesbian and gay couples is guaranteed by the United States Constitution. With last year's historic victories at the Supreme Court guiding the way, it is clear that we are on a path to full and equal citizenship for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. 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."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.