Arrrrr! Count ‘em, mates, that’s yer five “r” arr, and this is none other than Planksy, yer favorite pirate turkey sailin’ in on water galore in this lake, err, state called Oklahoma. Me rum barrel is ready rain or shine this beauty of a Fourth of July, lads and lasses. Me grog cup awaits a fillin’. Fiddles? Hornpipes? Check. Matey. Arrr. Yer know what happens next. No, no, matey, not an earthquake or a flash flood. Aye, it's time to give out this year’s sparklers and sharklers. If yer done good, yer get yer flashy sparklers aboard ship with a sip or seventeen out of me special Planksy Reserve rum barrel. If yer done bad, then yer a landlubbery bilge rat, awarded the sharklers right after yer take a short walk off me ship’s plank.
Sparklers: Me first sparklers go to the five honorary pirate turkeys on the U.S. Supreme Court for yer beaut of a decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Ahoy, Mr. Kennedy, methinks yer swung smartly I do. This bird supports equality for all as do me feathery mates aboard me ship, barnacle free and ready steady. Aye, it’s been a long sail but we’re full speed ahead now, lads and lasses.
Sharklers: Arrr. Me first sharklers go to Gov. Mary Fallin for dancing a jig for a landlubbery bill supposedly protecting religious liberty. This law says yer state ministers don’t HAVE to marry same-sex couples, but that’s already the case. Aye, think about it. No one has to marry anyone they don’t want to. Avast, she says it’s about religious liberty, but it’s really a pouty law, mates. Boo hoo.
Sparklers: Me second set of sparklers this holiday goes to THE RULE OF LAW, ahoy, together with seven members of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, rascally rapscallions unsheathed. Arrr! The Okie constitution is clear, me mates, Article 2, Section 5. Read it with a bird’s eye view like meself. Aye, the Ten Commandments monument at the Capitol, well, thou shalt be removed.
Sharklers: Arrr. Sharklers to Attorney General Scott Pruitt for his swarmy ruckus over the monument decision. The landlubber gets it wrong, not the seven Okie Supremes. Aye, the rule of law, Mister Pruitt, the rule of law, not religious ideology. Sharklers for yer this holiday. Yer couldn’t sail a toy boat in a bathtub full of Epsom salt.
Sparklers: Arrr. He arrives each holiday with his special gifts as his sweet gobbler sways in the prairie breeze. He sails in with his feathery mates bringin’ joy a barrel of rum, fiddles, hornpipes and jigs. Sparklers to none other than meself, Planksy, the pirate turkey. Hey, gotta catch this flash flood outa here. See you soon, mates. Arrr.
No, “quite simply,” Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt got it legally wrong in his statement criticizing the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday that the controversial Ten Commandments monument on state Capitol grounds must be removed.
The 7 to 2 court ruling seems obvious, and one doesn’t have to be an attorney to understand it. The monument is a religious symbol on state public property, which is an obvious violation of the Oklahoma Constitution. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma and its national affiliate brought the winning lawsuit to get the monument removed.
Here’s Pruitt’s statement:
Quite simply, the Oklahoma Supreme Court got it wrong. The court completely ignored the profound historical impact of the Ten Commandments on the foundation of Western law. Furthermore, the court’s incorrect interpretation of Article 2, Section 5 contradicts previous rulings of the court. In response, my office will file a petition with the court for a rehearing in light of the broader implications of this ruling on other areas of state law. In the interim, enforcement of the court’s order cannot occur. Finally, if Article 2, Section 5, is going to be construed in such a manner by the court, it will be necessary to repeal it.”
Here’s Article 2, Section 5 of the state constitution:
No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.
The first question for Pruitt, pictured right, of course, is how else could you not consider the “or property” and “or used” and “or support" and a “system of religion” as ambiguous in any sense. The second question is how can you dismiss the Ten Commandments as merely historical when they appear in the Bible? They are organically religious. They only exist because of religion. The Ten Commandments begin, “I am the Lord and God/Thou shalt have no other Gods before me.” How can anyone argue that’s not religious?
I hope the court denies Pruitt’s request for a rehearing just on the grounds that the state constitution is so convincingly clear on the issue. Pruitt’s argument for repeal if the constitutional section is “going to be construed in such a manner” also has its own set of problems.
Here are two of those problems:
Oklahoma Constitution, Article One, Section One: 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.
Oklahoma Constitution, Article One, Section Two: Perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured, and no inhabitant of the State shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship; and no religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights. Polygamous or plural marriages are forever prohibited.
Leave aside the issue of polygamous or plural marriages in the second section. The first section makes it clear that the U.S. Constitution supersedes the Oklahoma Constitution, which may mean the issue will probably be decided on a U.S. Supreme Court interpretation of the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment. But the second section complicates it further. For example note the language, “. . . no inhabitant of the State shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship . . . “ Couldn’t people outside the Judeo-Christian religious system argue the monument makes them feel like second-class citizens and thus “molests” them psychologically or denies them equal standing in state government?
So will Pruitt also lead the charge to rewrite other major sections of the state constitution that make Oklahoma “an inseparable” part of the United States and protect people, even Christians, against religious discrimination? My point is that Pruitt’s repeal argument is not as simple as it might seem. What if the issue does end up in the U.S. Supreme Court and the court upholds the decision? Then the call for repeal becomes a tangled thicket involving at least three sections of the state constitution. Conversely, what if the high court rejects that ruling and rules the monument can stay? Then Pruitt’s repeal argument becomes as meaningless as the states’ rights argument against same-sex marriage. It’s just political posturing.
Some legislators, in response to the ruling, want to impeach the judges who ruled in favored of removing the monument, but, again, the constitution is so obvious on this point that it’s difficult to see how much traction this idea could get among people in some type of recall or impeachment effort. Judges must follow the law even if they don’t agree with it on a personal level. I think people will empathize with that.
People in favor of the Oklahoma monument point to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2005 to allow such a monument on the state Capitol grounds in Texas, but they often fail to mention the court also ruled at the same time against allowing Ten Commandment displays at two courthouses and a school district in Kentucky. The seemingly opposite rulings hinged largely on the fact that the Texas monument had a 40-year-old history and had not been legally challenged during that time.
Who knows what the divided high court would rule on the Oklahoma case, but the monument, which was installed only in 2012, does not have a similar history as the Texas monument. The legislator, state Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow), who led the effort to place the monument on state grounds and whose family donated $10,000 to the project, lists himself as an “ordained Southern Baptist deacon” on his legislative profile.
Whatever the ultimate outcome in this case, this much is true: This spectacle is about religious conservatives here trying to push their worldviews on people who don’t share those narrow worldviews. It’s about political posturing and maneuvering. It’s about the political power of the Southern Baptist Church and other Christian fundamentalist churches in Oklahoma. It’s about the real threat of theocracy here and throughout the country.
It’s NOT about the foundation of the law or even constitutional interpretations.
The year 2004 will always be considered a bleak year for equality in Oklahoma when state voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as “between one man and one woman.”
I had just started this blog in earnest a few months before that November vote in the general election. What struck me and others I knew in favor of same-sex marriage and gay rights in general back then wasn’t so much the overall outcome but the vote totals and percentages themselves.
The numbers were suffocating and depressing. The Oklahoma Senate voted 38 to 7 and the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted 92 to 4 to put the measure on the ballot. Oklahomans voted 1,075,216 in favor of State Question 711 limiting marriage to a man and woman while only 347,303 of them voted against it. That’s an approximately 76 to 24 percent split.
The ballot title itself reeked of exclusion and hatred:
This measure adds a new section of law to the Constitution. It adds Section 35 to Article 2. It defines marriage to be between one man and one woman. It prohibits giving the benefits of marriage to people who are not married. It provides that same sex marriages in other states are not valid in this state. It makes issuing a marriage license in violation of this section a misdemeanor.
Note the phrase “benefits of marriage.” Why even use the word “benefits” in a rhetorical sense. Was the point to rub it in the faces of the gay community? It sounds like something a playground bully might say with a nasty smirk. I get to have the benefits. You don’t. Ha ha ha. Note, too, the provisions that prohibit the state from recognizing other state laws and criminalizing same sex marriage.
As we now know, the amendment and similar measures in Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming were overturned by a federal panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2014. On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex legal throughout the nation under an interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
As I mentioned, it seemed suffocating and depressing here in 2004. On a personal level, I wondered at that time, like I’m sure others here did, whether it was worth it to keep on fighting for progressive causes in Oklahoma. I definitely thought about writing off Okie Funk as a short experiment at that point, but eventually SQ 711 served as another catalyst for people to keep on fighting. I doubled down on the political writing and new people and a new generation rose up here to fight for equality and other progressive causes at the local level.
The Oklahoma City Pride Festival and Parade grew in size, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community here—at least from my perspective—became better organized and recognized as a political force.
Meanwhile, sympathetic depictions of LGBT people continued to appear in movies and television shows, and a younger generation showed their tolerance and support. In 2012, President Barack Obama became the first president to endorse same-sex marriage. Before this, of course, thousands of gay people and others stood up for equal rights, sometimes losing their lives to do so. There were the New York Stonewall riots in the late 1960s and the HIV activists in the 1980s. I could go on, but I’m not the one to write this particular history in all its detail, although it feels good to be on the right and winning side.
So what a wonderful moment in history! What a turnaround in feelings and reactions from the dark days of 2004 in Oklahoma when it seemed the same-sex marriage fight could take another generation or even longer here and I was ready to give up on this place when it came to politics.