A judge’s ruling invalidating the 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage here in Oklahoma is absolutely a stupendous victory for the state’s gay community and so long overdue.
But those who don’t support the judge’s ruling, most notably state Rep. Sally Kern, continue to present fallacious arguments against it.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern (no relation to Sally Kern), ruled the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was an “arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens . . .” The ruling came in a case filed against the amendment by two lesbian couples. The judge stayed the ruling as the appeal process begins. That means no same-sex couples can get married here . . . yet.
The amendment, which was approved by nearly 76 percent of voters in a 2004 election, reads in part: “Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.” It also states: “A marriage between persons of the same gender performed in another state shall not be recognized as valid and binding in this state as of the date of the marriage.”
Many of us opposed to the law in 2004 realized the then new law was unconstitutional and discriminatory, but conservatives here have long used opposition to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) rights as a political campaign cudgel. The amendment was passed as cultural attitudes elsewhere about the LGBT community became much more tolerant. Oklahoma voters unfortunately decided to codify bigotry and fear into the state’s constitution. Now, 10 years later, same-sex marriage is a reality in 17 states and the District of Columbia. As a growing number of states legalize same-sex marriage, it has become even more apparent that some states, like Oklahoma, are directly discriminating against the LGBT community.
As we all know, it seems unlikely that Oklahoma voters would approve same-sex marriage if given a chance at the polls, but even here cultural attitudes have become more tolerant since 2004. I argue, in fact, that a majority of people here—even those who voted in favor of the 2004 amendment—are not really overly concerned with the same-sex marriage issue, but just respond automatically to right-wing politicians, who feel the need to run campaigns based on fear mongering and intolerance.
State Rep. Kern, a controversial politician who once said homosexuality was a bigger threat than terrorism in this country, responded negatively and typically to the ruling with arguments steeped in religion and conservative rhetoric. In her statement, Kern argued: “Declaring homosexuality and same sex marriage (SSM) as a civil right is giving legitimacy to what God says is wrong.” She also referred to the Ten Commandments and Thomas Jefferson to back up her claims. She said the ruling somehow rendered the “freedom” of those who initially voted for the same-sex marriage ban “unconstitutional.” It was a hodge-podge of rambling, right-wing canards.
Let’s be clear that Kern’s religious positions would be considered radical in many other places in this country and world. Her insistence that there’s no separation between church and state should be considered dangerous to anyone who doesn’t share her religious and world views. The judge’s ruling clarifies this for all of us once again whether we need that clarification or not.
Let’s also be clear, again, that states’ rights do not trump the U.S. Constitution.
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which became law in 1868, in no uncertain terms, guarantees equal standing for all citizens, claiming that no state law can be enforced that would “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The same-sex marriage ban DID deny a group of people here equal protection. The fact that a clear majority of people voted to codify discrimination here remains irrelevant because of the U.S. Constitution.
The first line of the Oklahoma Constitution states: “The State of Oklahoma is an inseparable part of the Federal Union, and the Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land.”
The reality is simply that same-sex marriage is coming to Oklahoma eventually. Even if the ruling is overturned on appeal, the tidal wave of states legalizing same-sex marriage will force the issue on a national level.
Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage will one day be viewed universally as a hateful and backward relic, evidence of a people misled by fear.
It should be obvious to anyone now that The Oklahoman has launched a full-scale political attack against Ward 2 Councilor and mayoral candidate Ed Shadid, using both its news columns and editorial page.
First, the newspaper demanded through its attorney and editor that a judge unseal Shadid’s divorce records, a divorced filed in 2004 that has now been resolved amicably. Both Shadid and his ex-wife agreed to seal the records to protect their minor children from contentious claims typically made in divorce cases.
The divorce records, once unsealed, show that Shadid, a local surgeon, once smoked pot and did harder drugs a couple of times before he entered a rehabilitation center. Shadid had openly discussed these issues for years so that information was extremely public anyway. The Oklahoman, of course, played this information up as if they had somehow scooped other media outlets and tried to cast Shadid in the most negative light possible.
The newspaper intentionally did this with its leadership fully aware of the argument that such sensational coverage of someone’s prior drug use—remember, it was primarily pot—could have a chilling effect on anyone here in recovery who wants to share their story publicly to help others.
Next, of all things, the newspaper went after Shadid for his city election voting record. The point was that Shadid has not voted in city elections as much as his election opponent Mayor Mick Cornett. Again, Shadid has long been open about how he became politicized in the last several years and decided to become part of the political solution in his community. There’s really no story here, except for what has become a common journey for many people from political apathy to political activism. Yet The Oklahoman sensationalized the information by delivering it in accusatory and biased terms. The headline on NewsOK.com read: “Shadid voted in few Oklahoma City elections in contrast to mayor.” Does it get clearer than that in terms of which candidate the newspaper supports for mayor?
Then, the newspaper published a distorted editorial criticizing Shadid for leading a grassroots group that has launched petition drives to place questions on the ballot related to stopping construction of the convention center contained in MAPS 3.
No one would dispute that the newspaper is entitled to its opinion on the issue, but the editorial contained huge omissions related to the issue. Shadid and others believe that voters were misled about the need for a hotel attached to the convention center. That hotel could cost taxpapers an extra $200 to $300 million. Would voters have approved MAPS 3 knowing this was the case? The newspaper ignored this issue in its editorial.
The newspaper also ignored the issue that some experts believe expensive, large convention centers with adjacent hotels are now not financially viable, especially in markets such as Oklahoma City. This was not mentioned in the editorial either The editorial simply argued in the most basic terms: “Vonvention center good; Shadid bad.”
Fittingly, when the Oklahoma City Council recently voted to NOT ask the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce to release a previous study related to the convention center that could shed light on these issues, the newspaper remained silent on its editorial page. Shadid, of course, voted to ask for the study’s release, arguing for transparency.
The Oklahoman has a long history of applying a double standard to politicians and distorting the news to further corporate interests and the careers of ultra-conservative leaders.
Here’s something to note in this regard. Continental Resources CEO and billionaire Harold Hamm and his wife, Sue, are going through a divorce. Hamm is politically involved in the state and elsewhere, serving as an energy advisor for Mitt Romney’s failed campaign and leading Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s re-election effort. Both Romney and Pruitt, of course, are Republicans.
Just a cursory look through a summary of Hamm’s divorce files shows the term “sealed document” more than 100 times.
The newspaper hasn’t brought up this issue even though Hamm, an obvious public figure, has stepped into state and national politics, obviously trying to influence voters to elect conservative candidates he supports. Don’t the voters have a right to know the issues in Hamm’s divorce just like in Shadid’s divorce? With all the money probably at stake in Hamm’s divorce, wouldn’t it at least be an interesting news story? Where’s that “journalistic” outrage now?
The newspaper’s attacks on Shadid about his divorce records were cloaked in sanctimonious language about “freedom of information.” Don’t believe it for a second. The Oklahoman has launched a deliberate attack on Shadid because he challenges the status quo. These types of sustained political attacks by the newspaper have failed in the past. Let’s hope that happens again.
Oklahoma isn’t the only state now dealing with earthquake swarms possibly caused by wastewater injection wells used in the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process.
A recent article in The Kansas City Star outlined how Kansas has experienced a surge in earthquakes, including a 3.8-magnitude quake that struck near the Oklahoma border on Dec. 16. Kansas, according to the report, “is one of five states least likely to experience earthquake damage.” A recent surge in oil and gas drilling might have changed all that.
According to the article, written by Mike Hendricks, “ . . . the December temblor and the smaller ones leading up to it startled flatlanders unaccustomed to the kind of tremors Californians might shrug off.”
Oklahoma, of course, has become earthquake central in the last two or three years or so. Hundreds upon hundreds of earthquakes, most of them small, have struck the state since an increase in fracking. Two earthquakes hit Oklahoma on Friday and Saturday with no reported damage.
In the fracking process, wastewater is eventually placed underground by high pressure into injection wells. Scientists believe this destabilizes rock layers, causing shifting, which can lead to earthquakes. One study concluded that the 5.7-magnitude quake near Prague in 2011 was likely connected to oil and gas activity.
According to the Earth Institute at Columbia University:
Felt as far away as Milwaukee, more than 800 miles away, the quake—the biggest ever recorded in Oklahoma--destroyed 14 homes, buckled a federal highway and left two people injured. Small earthquakes continue to be recorded in the area.
Is this the cost of supposed American energy independence?
The official state response to the surge in earthquakes can only be described as minimal. The Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner has urged state residents to get earthquake insurance for their homes, but no state leader seems ready to champion stricter regulations about wastewater injection wells or to eliminate them altogether.
On the national level, two U.S. Representatives have called for a hearing on the unusual spike in seismic activity in Oklahoma and other states and its relationship to oil and gas activity. No one in the Oklahoma Congressional delegation has publicly supported them.
Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry is important to the state’s economy, of course, and many of its politicians, such as U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe and House Speaker T.W. Shannon, receive significant campaign donations from the energy lobby. This makes it difficult to even have a public discussion about the issue.
The state’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, a mouthpiece for energy corporations and right-wing politicians, has argued on its editorial page “that in the absence of compelling evidence that a natural phenomenon was caused by human activity, we should assume it was caused by nature.” In other words, it’s all just nature doing its thing.
The bottom line seems to be that it will take a major earthquake in Oklahoma that causes significant damage or a seismic shift here in the political landscape to get stricter regulations.
A better approach, of course, would be to focus on creating renewable energy sources.