For the second time in a month, a federal judge has set aside a deeply conservative state's limits on same-sex marriage, this time in Oklahoma.
U.S. District Judge Terence Kern on Tuesday struck down Oklahoma's voter-approved ban, but headed off any rush to the altar by putting the effects of his ruling on hold while state and local officials complete an appeal.
Like the federal judge who reversed Utah's gay marriage ban in December, Kern determined that Oklahoma's constitutional amendment violated the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause. His ruling was littered with references to both the Utah ruling and those issued by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer.
Kern described Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage as "an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit."
"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."
The decision drew criticism from the governor, attorney general and other elected officials in this state, known as the buckle of the Bible Belt. A state lawmaker who once said gay people posed a greater threat to the nation than terrorism blasted rulings from "activist judges."
Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage is the third to be struck down by a federal judge, after California and Utah. State courts also ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in New Mexico in December and New Jersey in October.