The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver has ruled in favor of same-sex couples seeking the right to legally marry in the state of Oklahoma.
Echoing its previous decision to uphold a lower court's invalidation of Utah's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in that state, a divided three-judge panel of 10th Circuit ruled 2-1 on Friday that a similar amendment to Oklahoma's constitution unfairly deprives gay and lesbian couples of marriage rights and benefits under state law.
“Plaintiffs who wish to marry a partner of the same sex or have such marriages recognized seek to exercise a fundamental right, and state justifications for banning same-sex marriage that turn on the procreative potential of opposite-sex couples do not satisfy the narrow tailoring test applicable to laws that impinge upon fundamental liberties,” Judge Carlos Lucero wrote in the court's majority opinion, concluding that the state's ban violates gay and lesbian couples' rights to equal protection and due process under the U.S. Constitution.
In addition to many of the same justifications for prohibiting same-sex marriage that the court previously rejected in the Utah case, Tulsa County Clerk Sally Howe Smith — the primary defendant in the lawsuit challenging Oklahoma's ban — argued that legalizing same-sex marriage would undermine the state's efforts to protect children by reducing the likelihood of their being raised by their biological parents.
“Oklahoma has enacted numerous laws that result in children being raised by individuals other than their biological parents, and Oklahoma permits infertile opposite-sex couples to marry despite the fact that they, as much as same-sex couples, might raise non-biological children,” Judge Lucero said. “Yet Ms. Smith does not explain why same-sex marriage poses a unique threat such that it must be treated differently from these other circumstances.”
“In summary, none of the arguments presented by Ms. Smith that were unaddressed in (the Utah case) persuade us to veer from our core holding that states may not, consistent with the United States Constitution, prohibit same-sex marriages,” Judge Lucero said.
Other appeals pending
Thus far, the 10th Circuit is the only federal appeals court to rule on the legality of state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage since the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2013 ruling in U.S. v. Windsor, which invalidated provisions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage for federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman.
Since the Supreme Court's ruling, state and federal judges in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, Idaho, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky and Florida have struck down those states' bans on same-sex marriage in their entirety, while bans in Ohio and Tennessee have been partially overturned.
Appeals to U.S. District Court rulings in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in Virginia, Texas, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Nevada and Idaho are currently pending in the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 9th circuits.