Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision to deny a federal order that Oklahoma must process benefits for all military couples, including those in same-sex marriages, has received a lot of negative national attention.
Fallin has apparently decided that a 2004 amendment in the state’s constitution that prohibits same-sex marriage trumps federal law. She has even gone as far as ordering state facilities to stop processing any benefits for ALL National Guardsmen’s spouses, who now must use federal facilities to do so in Oklahoma.
“Oklahoma law is clear,” Fallin said in a recent statement. “The state of Oklahoma does not recognize same sex marriages, nor does it confer marriage benefits to same sex couples. The decision reached today allows the National Guard to obey Oklahoma law without violating federal rules or policies. It protects the integrity of our state Constitution and sends a message to the federal government that they cannot simply ignore our laws or the will of the people.”
This unfair and discriminatory stance has been widely criticized in the news and on social media outlets in recent days. Rachel Maddow, for example, took Fallin to task for the decision in the above segment of her MSNBC show.
There are at least two important underlying issues here.
First, the Oklahoma National Guard is part of the U.S. Armed Forces. Oklahoma is one of a handful of states, including Texas and Florida, which has decided to not process benefits for spouses of same-sex couples legally married in other states. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has explicitly ordered Oklahoma and these other states to process the benefits. That means Oklahoma is in clear violation of federal law. The state’s constitution clearly states: “The State of Oklahoma is an inseparable part of the Federal Union, and the Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land.” Common sense would dictate that this basic tenet embedded in the state’s constitution since its creation clearly trumps a much later anti-same sex marriage amendment that basically legalizes discrimination.
Second, Fallin, who is running for reelection in 2014, has obviously weighed the political costs or benefits for this decision. She’s undoubtedly hoping this political stunt will earn her votes, but is she right? Oklahomans voted overwhelmingly to ban same-sex marriage in 2004, but much has changed since then. Several states, for example, have gone in a different direction and have legalized same-sex marriage. Cultural acceptance and tolerance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community has grown exponentially in this country in recent years. This has happened in Oklahoma as well. Fallin, of course, seems poised to easily win reelection, but her outspoken stance against LGBT rights could actually cost her some votes and will obviously tarnish her legacy as governor.
Let’s be clear that Oklahoma relies heavily on the federal government for its basic viability, from its military bases to aid for the state’s numerous weather disasters. Studies have shown that Oklahoma is a “taker” state that receives far more federal money than it pays in federal taxes. Given these circumstances, Fallin’s decision seems unduly petulant and calculated.