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23/07/2014

Wedding Bells Ring: Law denies same-sex couples 'fundamental right,' says judge

A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Friday, July 18 that the same-sex couples have the right to legally marry in the state.

In his majority in opinion in Bishop v. Smith, Circuit Court Judge Carlos F. Lucero wrote, "... Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage sweeps too broadly in that it denies a fundamental right to all same-sex couples who seek to marry or to have their marriages recognized regardless of their child-rearing ambitions. As with opposite-sex couples, members of same-sex couples have a constitutional right to choose against procreation."

However, Lucero noted, "Oklahoma has barred all same-sex couples, regardless of whether they will adopt, bear, or otherwise raise children, from the benefits of marriage while allowing all opposite-sex couples, regardless of their child-rearing decisions, to marry."

According to a statement Friday from Charles Joughin, a spokesman for the national Human Rights Campaign, "The state of Oklahoma now has the option to request an en banc appeal before the full bench of the 10th Circuit, which decides whether or not to grant that request. It may also bypass an en banc session and appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court."

In June, the same 10th Circuit panel also struck down Utah's same-sex marriage ban. Utah is expected to appeal that ruling.

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Evan Wolfson, president of the national group Freedom to Marry, stated, "Today's ruling arises out of the oldest active marriage case in the country, filed in Oklahoma 10 years ago; and follows more than two-dozen favorable rulings for marriage in the past year. The legal consensus is clear: marriage discrimination is unconstitutional and inflicts concrete harms on committed gay and lesbian couples and their families. ... It is time for the Supreme Court to end this patchwork of discrimination and bring our country to national resolution as soon as possible."

Since June 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down California's Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban on a technicality and essentially killed the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited federal recognition of such unions, there have been numerous court rulings favorable to same-sex marriages.

Florida judge overturns marriage ban

A judge in Florida has struck down that state's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional, but the ruling currently only applies to the county where the ruling was issued, which includes the Florida Keys, the national group Freedom to Marry says.

Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia, who was appointed by former Governor Jeb Bush, a Republican, made his ruling in Huntsman v. Heavilin Thursday, July 17.

"This court concludes that a citizen's right to marry is a fundamental right that belongs to the individual," Garcia said in his ruling, according to HRC.

State Attorney General Pam Bondi quickly appealed the ruling. In a statement, Bondi spokeswoman Jenn Meale said, "With many similar cases pending throughout the entire country, finality on this constitutional issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court." The ruling was stayed until at least Wednesday, July 22.

HRC legal director Sarah Warbelow stated Thursday, "Today's court ruling in Florida is further proof that America is ready for marriage equality nationwide. Unfortunately, same-sex couples in a majority of states still don't have the right to marry, creating a confusing patchwork of marriage laws across the country. This is not only unsustainable, but it's also unconstitutional."

Same-sex couples can legally get married in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

Freedom to Marry's Wolfson stated, "Like an unprecedented wave of state and federal courts across the country this past year, Judge Garcia did the right thing in affirming that committed same-sex couples share in the precious constitutional freedom to marry the person we love."

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, also took note of the national progress. In a statement to the Bay Area Reporter, Minter said, "The victories in Florida and Oklahoma show that the momentum for marriage equality is continuing full force, in both state and federal courts, and even in states that until recently have been among the most hostile to LGBT families. Every victory makes ultimate victory in the U.S. Supreme Court more likely."

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