US District Judge rules Oklahoma ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, ban in effect pending appeal

TULSA - A U.S. District Judge has ruled Oklahoma's ban on marriage is unconstitutional. 

Judge Terence Kern, a U.S. District Court judge for the Northern District of Oklahoma, gave his ruling Tuesday afternoon.

"Applying deferential rationality review, the Court searched for a rational link between exclusion of this class from civil marriage and promotion of a legitimate governmental objective. Finding none, the Court’s rationality review reveals Part A as an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit," reads an excerpt from Kern's 68-page ruling.

Oklahoma is currently one of 28 states with constitutional amendments restricting marriage rights. State voters approved their own same-sex marriage-banning amendment in 2004.

The ruling does not allow for the immediate introduction of gay marriage in Oklahoma, as it is stayed pending circuit appeal.

In a release, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin gave this statement:

“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. With last year’s historic victories at the Supreme Court guiding the way, it is clear that we are on a path to full and equal citizenship for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. Equality is not just for the coasts anymore, and today’s news from Oklahoma shows that time has come for fairness and dignity to reach every American in all 50 states.”

The ruling comes as a result of a lawsuit by two plaintiff couples, Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin and Gay Phillips and Susan Barton, in 2004. The case, Bishop v. Oklahoma, was filed in the U.S. Northern District Court of Oklahoma.

"We're pretty elated," Baldwin said Tuesday. "It's been a long time coming. We're glad Judge Kern has finally ruled and now we can go about our business of overturning DOMA for the entire nation."

Phillips said she was also thrilled, but was aware of the possibility of criticism.

"I know a lot of people in Oklahoma are not going to be in favor of this, but the majority doesn't always get to tell the minority what they can and can not do and be," she said.

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin released this statement Tuesday evening:

"In 2004, the people of Oklahoma voted to amend the state's constitution to define marriage as ‘the union of one man and one woman.’ That amendment passed with 75 percent support. The people of Oklahoma have spoken on this issue. 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."

In November, Fallin famously pulled all National Guard benefits filings  at state-run facilities after receiving federal pressure to serve same-sex couples.

A number of other state and local officials, including Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris, also expressed concern Tuesday evening. Harris, specifically, hinted at the likelihood of an appeal.

“We are disappointed in the ruling. We will need to review the decision and talk with our client, Tulsa County Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith, about appeal options,” he said.

RELATED: Oklahoma lawmakers' response

Rev. Charlotte Luerssen, founder of Living Inside Out Ministry in Coweta, was openly critical of the ruling.

“I’m not happy,” Luerrsen said. “We cannot honor those ceremonies. That is not marriage. We must obey God’s commands over pleasing people ... I think the gay community has combined forces and spoken up.  I would like the church to speak up.”

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