A US district judge has ruled that the traditionally conservative American state of Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.
Judge Terence Kern said in his ruling that the ban was “an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit”.
He wrote that, “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.”
Kern also commented on the high divorce rate in the state, quipping that “excluding same-sex couples from marriage has done little to keep Oklahoma families together thus far”.
The ban does not fall away immediately however; Kern allowed it to stand for now while the matter is under appeal.
This should avoid the recent chaos seen in the state of Utah when a judge unbanned same-sex marriage and allowed over a thousand marriage licenses to be issued to gay couples. Two weeks later the ban was reinstated by the Supreme Court, pending that state’s appeal process, putting the legality of these marriages on hold until the case is finalised.
Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin nevertheless welcomed the Oklahoma ruling. “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,” he said.
Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin was less than impressed with the judge’s ruling, asserting that 75 percent of voters had in 2004 opted to amend the state’s constitution to define marriage as ‘the union of one man and one woman’.
“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,” she said.
The latest ruling comes on the heels of a year-long string of electoral, judicial and legislative victories for marriage equality in the US.