Panel judge set to rule on Oklahoma, Utah marriage bans raises important questions

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A judge who will soon make an important decision regarding marriage equality in the US raised some very important questions regarding whether Oklahoma can legally uphold its ban on April 17.

US Circuit Judge Jerome Holmes is one of three judges on a panel that was hearing an appeal regarding the marriage equality ban in Oklahoma. A week prior, the same panel heard a near-identical Utah case. The cases are the first of their kind to be heard by an appellate court since June 2013, when the US Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

In the ten months since then, eight federal judges have ruled that laws against marriage equality serve no purpose other than to deny a fundamental right to same-sex couples. Holmes, who is seen as the swing vote on the panel, seems to share that viewpoint.

One question he brought up, to Tulsa County defense attorney Jim Campbell, was “The state cannot define marriage in any way that would trample constitutional rights, right?”

However, he also stated that “The natural, procreative potential of opposite-sex couples distinguishes that group from same-sex couples,” and said the democratic process must prevail if there is a “rational reason” for the definition of marriage to be restricted.

Voters in Oklahoma and Utah both passed bans on marriage equality in 2004. In January 2014 and December 2013, respectively, a federal judge ruled that the ban was a violation of constitutional rights. The panel’s verdict could come down to whether the judges believe that voters should have the power to deny rights to a certain demographic—something judges elsewhere, such as in California, have ruled unacceptable.

Two of the Oklahoma case’s plaintiffs, Sharon Baldwin and Mary Bishop, told press that although they want to be married, they’ve chosen to fight to change their home state’s laws rather than travel to a state where it’s already legal. Baldwin said, “We believe that history and justice are on our side, and that is something that no amount of tradition can overcome.”

Attorney Jim Campbell spoke to the press as well, saying that while he felt positively about how the hearing had gone, “I don’t play the game of reading judges. It’s a dangerous game.”

The judges are unlikely to issue a ruling for several months.

429Magazine

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