When a federal judge earlier this week ruled that Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, he pushed the state back into the national spotlight and set social media ablaze with emotionally charged chatter.
Senior U.S. District Judge Terrence C. Kern said his ruling would not take effect until the matter wended its way through the appeals process. State officials have expressed consternation, and many say they’ll pursue the matter to the Supreme Court.
The decision stems from a challenge to a law Oklahoma voters approved in 2004 by a 3-to-1 margin, defining marriage as between one man and one woman. This week’s ruling was the culmination of a challenge to that vote.
Cherokee County residents are expressing an eclectic mix of opinions, some focusing on constitutional issues and others stressing the importance of states’ rights. A lively conversation on the Press’ Facebook page, which now has almost 8,150 friends, began shortly after the decision was rendered. Many comments mentioned religious beliefs, with some citing biblical scripture denouncing homosexuality as a sin and affirming the traditional definition of marriage, and others insisting Jesus never mentioned sexual orientation and instead stressed loving one’s neighbor and refraining from judgment.
Former Tahlequah resident Danny Mason believes the vote should have never taken place – and in any case, opinions have changed.
“I know I have changed a lot in the last 10 years. I am a Christian, but I also believe in separation of church and state; therefore, [the] argument that it goes against biblical teachings should not apply,” he said. “The Constitution is what governs the law in this country.”
John Morgan, of Tahlequah, pointed out other scriptural mandates aren’t being followed so rigorously.
“If religion has anything to do with marriage, you could sell your daughters for a cow and interracial marriage would still be illegal,” he said. “Oklahoma has one of the highest divorce rates in the U.S.; work on that.”
Tim Wilson, of Tahlequah, doesn’t believe religion should be used to oppress the freedom of others: “I’m not saying you have to agree with same-sex marriage, but as an American, you have to have freedom for all.”
Tahlequah resident Brad Wagnon asserted that since marriage is a “religious issue,” the government should stay out of it. Other posters challenged that view by either saying marriage is an ancient form of contractual obligation that has little to do with religion, or that its status as a religious issue is precisely why the government has no reason passing laws about it. A couple of people suggested a compromise by allowing “civil unions” for gays.
Four or five other Press contributors bolstered their arguments against same-sex marriage with religious tenets.
“In my opinion, gay marriage is wrong, a sin, an abomination,” said Tahlequah resident Jay Cook, whose father is a pastor. “We are on a very slippery slope when we accept and rationalize that which God calls sin, and man calls progress, civil liberty, or any other man-generated euphemism for sin. I definitely live in a glass house as far as my life and my failures, so I’m careful as to what stones I choose to throw. But we must not allow gay marriage to become the accepted norm.”
Jamie Hill is of like mind: “We should stand up for the Lord. This is not what the Lord said. Also those people will not go into the new home he made for his people.”
Florence Black of Stilwell is among those who believes the people’s vote should stand, regardless of religious or civil implications. So is Kevin Owens.
“A vote is a vote, and although I am in full support of gay marriage and do not agree with our state, I also don’t think the government has a right to tell our state that voted against it otherwise,” Owens said.
Carla Martin had a similar opinion: “Since when do the courts come in and overturn a legal vote from a state election?”
Shane Perry worried that overturning a state vote in this case could lead to others.
“What is to keep the government from deciding who they want to be president one day, instead of letting us vote on it? If you want [this law] changed, get it put on a ballot and see what happens,” Perry said. “It amazes me just how quickly this country is changing from the ‘Land of the Free’ to the ‘Land of Whomever Throws the Biggest Fit About Something.’”
Tahlequah businessman Al Soto is uneasy with the concept that one person can make such a critical decision for Oklahomans.
“Despite our personal and religious views on the subject of gay marriage, we the people should all be able to agree that these matters should be handled by the people,” Soto said. “Justice Kennedy, who ruled in favor of striking down Section 3 of [Defense of Marriage Act] as unconstitutional, said this of the Prop 8 (or properly called Hollingsworth vs. Perry when it reached SCOTUS): ‘In the end, what the Court fails to grasp or accept is the basic premise of the initiative process. And it is this. The essence of democracy is that the right to make law rests in the people and flows to the government, not the other way around. Freedom resides first in the people without need of a grant from government.’ It should all make us uncomfortable to have an unelected man or woman, who happens to wear a black robe, dictate from on high how Oklahomans should think, believe and live.”
Thomas Schneider, a legislative/legal intern for State Sen. Kim David, who represents portions of Cherokee County, agrees with the ruling on the basis of the 14th Amendment, which provides that no state can deny any person equal protection under the law. Schneider, who graduated from Tahlequah High School in 2008 and Oklahoma State University in 2012, is currently a student at the Oklahoma City University School of Law.
Schneider pointed out the amendment was passed in response to slavery, but that it is very vague.
“... the 14th Amendment followed the 10th Amendment, which reserved those powers for the states that were not delegated to the U.S. or [were] prohibited under the new constitution. In my opinion, everyone should read these amendments in light of one another,” Schneider said. “When Oklahoma became the 46th state of the union, it recognized in its own constitution that the U.S. Constitution was the supreme law of the land.”
John Yeutter, a Northeastern State University business professor, concurred, saying precedent has already been set that allowed federal law to circumvent state’s rights.
“The Commonwealth of Virginia had a law, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, restricting who could marry there. Until the 1960s, interracial marriage was forbidden. Many then justified that restriction on religious grounds,” Yeutter said. “In 1967, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that restriction unconstitutional in Loving vs. Virginia. I see many parallels between the opponents of miscegenation in the ‘50s and ‘60s and the opponents of same-sex marriage today. In both cases, civil and constitutional rights outweigh the reserved powers of the states to regulate marriage.”
Community leaders speak out, pro and con
Outside the Facebook forum, community leaders and elected officials displayed a similar mix of opinions.
Former State Sen. Jim Wilson, a Democrat, said the ruling reflects the majority opinion of U.S. citizens.
“The judge waited five years to rule on standing. Then he waited another five years to rule on the merit. It seems he gained cover by Utah’s ruling, and he sort of tied the results to Utah’s final disposition. He inferred the ruling was proper because of changing attitudes - and the obvious future for acceptance of gay marriage,” Wilson said. “The fact that Oklahoma voters passed the constitutional amendment in 2004 by 75 percent does not circumvent the U.S. Constitution. Precedent doesn’t allow the majority to violate rights of the minority - i.e., slaves, racial discrimination, sex discrimination, age discrimination, obesity discrimination, etc. If the court decides benefits of partners are a right, they have no choice but to protect those rights, regardless of sexual orientation.”
State Sen. Earl Garrison, who represents parts of Cherokee County, is a Muskogee Democrat. He said he believes in the traditional marriage.
State Rep. Mike Brown, D-Tahlequah, sees both sides of the coin.
“Ten years ago, in 2004, the Oklahoma Legislature asked the citizens of Oklahoma to vote on the issue of recognizing same sex marriage in our state. Our citizens voted to amend the state’s constitution to define marriage as ‘the union of one man and one woman.’ Due to my personal religious beliefs, I am in agreement with this concept,” Brown said. “However, I do recognize the right of other individuals to practice their own religious beliefs in accordance with their own faiths. Our nation was founded on the premise that all men are created equal. According to the U.S. Constitution, it is the role of the U.S. Supreme Court to ensure that all citizens are given equal rights and protection under the law. These judges, appointed by both Democrat and Republican U.S. presidents, will ultimately decide the constitutionality of this issue. The Supreme Court ruling will become the law of the land.”
Dana Rogers, Cherokee County Democratic Party chairwoman, also had a brief response: “We believe in equality.”
District 2 Congressman Markwayne Mullin thinks the ruling violated the sovereignty of states.
“Oklahomans overwhelmingly voted nearly a decade ago to define in our state’s constitution that marriage is between one man and one woman. Unfortunately, we have yet again witnessed the voices of the governed being disregarded. [The] ruling is disappointing and an unfortunate reflection of federal overreach,” he said.
In his ruling, Kern dispelled the traditional reasons given for upholding a gay marriage ban, saying “moral disapproval of homosexuals as a class, or same-sex marriage as a practice, is not a permissible justification.” He also rejected the argument that gay unions endanger the sanctity of marriage, in light of the state’s high divorce rate. Since same-sex couples don’t have to promise to produce offspring to get a marriage license, encouraging procreation is not a viable reason, either, he said.
“Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed,” Kern wrote. “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.”
To read the comments being posted by Tahlequah Daily Press “friends” on Facebook, and to join the discussion, go to www.facebook.com/tdpress.