I don’t know how much I can add to the celebration over the incredible and wonderful development that same-sex marriage is not only now legal in Oklahoma but also has already happened and will continue to do so.
On Monday, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear appeals of lower court rulings that argued state bans of same-sex marriage were unconstitutional. By refusing to hear the appeals, the court implicitly endorsed the lower court rulings. This means same-sex marriage is now immediately legal in five more states, including Oklahoma, and should soon be legal in six other states.
Meanwhile, a judicial panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the ban of same-sex marriage in Nevada and Idaho, a ruling which could also lead to same-sex marriage in three other states under its auspices. In all, same-sex marriage is legal or should be soon legal in 35 states, though some conservative states will try to fight its implementation.
I think it’s poetic that same-sex marriage is now legal in a state that produces political leaders such as state Rep. Sally Kern, an Oklahoma City Republican, who once made national news when she said homosexuality was “the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam.” Remember this claim by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe on the Senate floor in 2006: “I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship.” I could go on and on.
I also vividly remember the sense of deflation I felt-and others felt this, too-after the 2004 election when Oklahomans voted overwhelming to approve State Question 711, which defined marriage as a union limited to a man and a woman. The vote count was 1,075,216 to 347,303, or approximately 75 to 25 percent. It was downright depressing, but I think it also helped to activate people in the fight for equality, including myself as a local political writer.
So here are three takes on this momentous and historical development.
(1) The push for equality here on the local level over the last three or so decades has been a blend of people fighting openly for justice and a growing cultural tolerance and acceptance. I wonder, for example, if SQ 711 would still be passed by such an overwhelming margin. I do know that many people, some who are now deceased, spoke out for equality at a time when it was extremely risky to do so. Lobbyist Keith Smith, who died in 2006, comes to mind, but there were many others. My point is that growing tolerance and acceptance of the LGBT community here has been a dialectical process between countless numbers of people through many years. Those people include civil rights activists but also people who lent their support in less visible ways.
(2) Gov. Mary Fallin’s clichéd reaction to the news was typical and political. After all, she’s running for reelection in a gubernatorial race that has become closer than most imagined a year ago, and she’s pandering to the conservative base. She said, “The will of the people has now been overridden by unelected federal justices, accountable to no one. That is both undemocratic and a violation of states’ rights.” But that ignores the U.S Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, which contains the equal protection clause. States must offer legal protection to ALL of its residents. It’s the law. SQ 711 was only a short-lived visceral thrill for conservatives and the right-wing religious folks. It was easy to see that in 2004, too.
(3) The right-wing religious folks weighed in with their disappointment, clinging to the tired arguments about the sanctity of marriage and what their vision of a God intended in this universe. They are certainly entitled to do so, and they can also deny same-sex couples the right to marry in their churches. That’s a crucial point. The Supreme Court decision doesn’t force churches in any form or manner to marry same-sex couples. The decision deals with civil marriage and its legal aspects. The right-wing religious folks here will always want to dictate civil law based on their belief system. They want to force people to live under their world views by law, not by choice. Their religion demands this of them. The court’s decision is a tremendous victory for the LGBT community, but it’s also a victory for people who believe in the separation of church and state.
The fight for equality is far from over. Discrimination against the LGBT community continues here and elsewhere. It’s time to uncork the champagne, but, alas, there’s more work to be done, especially in a state like Oklahoma.