What Does Oklahoma’s Ruling On Same-sex Marriage Mean for Virginia? A Lot.
A U.S. District Judge ruled this week that Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, and this may have an impact on Virginia’s similar constitutional amendment.
Justice Terence Kern, of the tenth District Court, ruled Oklahoma’s ban was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
However, same-sex couples in Oklahoma can’t yet get married, as Kern’s ruling is being held while an appeal is in process.
Mike Hamar, an attorney based out of Norfolk, thinks the judges in the Fourth Circuit (who have jurisdiction over Virginia) may follow the lead of those in the Tenth Circuit (who have jurisdiction over Oklahoma and Utah).
“Despite the states’ arguments for why their statutes are reasonable, well, the (circuit) courts didn’t buy the arguments…Their supposed justification just doesn’t jive with reality,” Hamar said.
“It’s hard to get inside a judge’s head, but at the same time, I find it hard to believe the judge sitting here (in Virginia) isn’t aware of what’s happening. If he’s got law clerks I suspect it’s unbelievable if they weren’t at least looking at these decisions (in Oklahoma and Utah).”
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision is paving the way for many of the land-locked states.
“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,” Griffin said in a statement shortly after the OK ruling went public yesterday evening.
“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.”
A brief yet important detail was that Justice Kern noted the ban was not at all by accident.
“This is simply not a case where exclusion of same-sex couples was a mere ‘unintended consequence’ of the law,” Kern said in his ruling.
“Instead, this is a classic, class-based equal protection case in which a line was purposefully drawn between two groups of Oklahoma citizens: same-sex couples desiring an Oklahoma marriage license and opposite-sex couples desiring an Oklahoma marriage license.”
Hamar said Kern’s distinction stands out and has equal relevancy to Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage.
“The big thing overall suggests is that there was intentional discrimination. It was very much intentional, and it was also very much the case in Virginia,” Hamar said.
“If you look at the background of all three of the constitutional amendments (in Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma), they all had the same motivation and even some of the same national groups advocating.”
In essence, the Tenth Circuit has created a template the Fourth Circuit could use to repeal state amendments which prohibit same-sex marriage.
Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage came from their state constitution. There was an amendment in the Oklahoma State Constitution which cited Baker v. Nelson, a Supreme Court case from the 70′s in which they ruled a Minnesota law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples was constitutional. Similarly, Virginia’s ban comes from their state constitution. The Marshall-Newman Amendment defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and was ratified by 57 percent of the popular vote in 2006.
I’m a spring intern at RVA Mag and GayRVA. I recently got my degree in journalism from Virginia Tech, where I also wrote for the Collegiate Times newspaper. I spent the first half of my life as an impatient New Yorker, but I grew up here in Richmond, buying skateboards from Dominion, seeing shows at Alley Katz, and watching VCU Rams basketball games. I like everything bagels, wasting my money on clothes I don’t need, moombahton music, and cycling. I probably fell down putting on my pants this morning.
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