He’s a Clinton appointee but he’s been sitting on this case for, if you can believe it, nine years. Maybe that’s because he was waiting for the Supremes to tackle the issue or maybe he just didn’t want to touch it in a state as red as Oklahoma. Either way, the plaintiffs were unhappy. They’re happier today.
“The Court holds that Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” U.S. District Court Judge Terence Kern wrote.
The ruling will not go into effect immediately, Kern decided, issuing a stay of his decision based on the recent Supreme Court action granting a stay in the case challenging Utah’s ban on same-sex couples’ marriages…
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin praised the ruling in a statement, saying, “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.”
Here’s the opinion, which is standard as far as equal-protection analysis of gay marriage by federal judges goes these days. His first task was to decide what to do with SCOTUS’s ruling in the Windsor case last year, which found Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional on equal-protection grounds. Should he find that Oklahoma’s traditional marriage law is unconstitutional for the same reason, or should he give the state more deference than the feds got from the Supreme Court with DOMA? Ultimately he decides on both: States, being the historic locus for marriage laws, get more deference, but that deference isn’t unlimited. If they want to discriminate against gay couples, they need to show some rational reason for doing so. “Moral disapproval” isn’t a rational reason per the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark case from 2003 that declared Texas’s anti-sodomy law unconstitutional. The upshot of Lawrence is that you can’t legislate morality when you’re targeting intimate relationships between consenting adults. You can regulate those relationships if you have some other rational reason for doing so, but the state couldn’t produce one here: “Encouraging procreation” doesn’t fly if you’re not also excluding straight infertile couples from marriage and “encouraging mother/father households” doesn’t fly if you can’t show how banning gay marriage would actually encourage the formation of those households. As I say, all of this is S.O.P. for federal SSM jurisprudence lately. The only real novelty is that, between this ruling and the ruling in Utah last month, the new legal battlefield over gay marriage lies in America’s reddest states. That may be an extra inducement for SCOTUS to deal with this sooner rather than later.
Kern, the Oklahoma judge, seems to think he knows which way that’ll go too:
Anyway, you don’t want me blathering at you about law and gay marriage, especially when it’s another loss for social conservatism. What you want, via Ace, is … devil baby. Cleanse that palate.