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.
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