Federal Judge Invalidates Oklahoma Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

Robert Gower, Trucker Huss, co-chair of BASF's Equality Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues

On January 14, 2014, a federal judge in Tulsa ruled that a voter-approved 2004 constitutional ban on recognition of same-sex marriage in Oklahoma “must give way to individual constitutional rights.” In a 68 page ruling , U.S. District Judge Terrence Kern found that the Oklahoma constitutional ban violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in that a prohibition on recognition of same-sex marriage in Oklahoma is “an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit.”

The case involves two female couples in committed long-term relationships, one of which was legally married in the state of California. While Judge Kern put an immediate stay on his ruling, if upheld, it will add Oklahoma to a growing list of United States jurisdictions that recognize same-sex marriage.

The ruling comes in the wake of the Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor , in which the Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), a federal statute that barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, but definitive impact on the recognition of same-sex marriage by the individual states. Significantly, Judge Shelby stated that Windsor should be reviewed as an equal protection case in examining state prohibitions on same-sex marriage, and stated that there are arguments both for and against the state constitutional amendment supported by Windsor. In reaching his conclusion, Judge Shelby stated that the Oklahoma constitutional amendment was a classic, class-based equal protection case.

A similar case out of Utah is pending before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the same circuit that will hear any appeal of the Oklahoma case.