Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Federal judge rules Oklahoma's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional

By Michael J.W. Stickings

This is happening -- in Utah, now in Oklahoma. Federal courts are weighing in on state laws that are inherently discriminatory, and what they're finding is that those laws ought to be struck down, that in essence those laws are profoundly un-American: 

U.S. Senior District Judge Terence Kern ruled Tuesday that Oklahoma's ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional.

The ruling is stayed pending appeal, meaning marriages will not occur immediately in Oklahoma.

In striking down Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage, U.S. District Judge Terrence Kern described it as "an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit."

"Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed," Kern's 68-page decision says. "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." 

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin points out that the ban was passed in 2004 with 75 percent popular support, but of course majority rule does not supersede Americans' foundational rights. (Slavery was once a popular thing, too, remember.) Perhaps Fallin and her fellow bigoted Republicans ought to read the Constitution they claim to hold in such high esteem. (It's also rather hypocritical to be so democratic when it suits their far-right agenda.)

I still think it's important for democratically-elected legislatures to legalize same-sex marriage and thereby to put a democratic stamp on marriage equality. But there's also a role for the courts to play alongside legislatures, and it's good to see federal judges like Kern taking a firm stand against what is nothing other than blatant discrimination that treats gays and lesbians like lesser citizens, if citizens at all.

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