U.S. District Judge Terence Kern ruled on Tuesday against Oklahoma's same-sex marriage ban, finding that the ban violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause. But same-sex couples in the state hoping to marry will have to wait: the order is stayed, pending a decision on an almost inevitable appeal.
In the order, Kern explains his decision, which pertains to a state-wide constitutional amendment enacted after a successful 2004 voter referendum:
Equal protection 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. Therefore, the majority view in Oklahoma must give way to individual constitutional rights.
Oklahoma's current laws ban same sex marriages in the state, and bar the state from recognizing valid same sex marriages from other states. Issuing a marriage license to same-sex couples is a misdemeanor in Oklahoma.
Two same-sex couples in the state — Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin, and Gay Phillips and Susan Barton — filed suit just after the measure was passed. Nine years later, they finally got a ruling from Kern after a different federal judge's ruling on a similar case temporarily made Utah the 18th state with marriage equality. Since Utah and Oklahoma fall under the jurisdiction of the same appeals court — the 10th circuit — the appeals court decision in either case would be binding to both.
In a statement, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin praised the ruling, saying that Kern's decision demonstrates that "Equality is not just for the coasts anymore." He added, "today’s news from Oklahoma shows that time has come for fairness and dignity to reach every American in all 50 states.”
The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans in U.S. states in general, but it looks like they'll have ample opportunity to consider those bans, soon. Utah will certainly take its appeal of U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby's decision in favor of marriage equality as far as it can. And Oklahoma, a similarly conservative state that fought against a post-Defense of Marriage Act requirement to provide federal benefits to married same-sex military couples, seems likely to appeal as well.
The full order is below: