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US judge strikes down Okla. same-sex marriage ban

TULSA, Okla. — A federal judge struck down Oklahoma's gay marriage ban Tuesday, but headed off any rush to the altar by setting aside his order while state and local officials complete an appeal.

It was the second time in a month that a federal judge has set aside a deeply conservative state's limits on same-sex marriage, after Utah's ban was reversed in December.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Terence 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."

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."

Kern said the ban violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause because it precludes same-sex couples from receiving an Oklahoma marriage license. In his 68-page ruling, Kern frequently referenced U.S. Supreme Court decisions issued last summer on gay marriage. He also took a shot at Oklahoma's high divorce rate, noting that "excluding same-sex couples from marriage has done little to keep Oklahoma families together thus far."

"Exclusion of just one class of citizens from receiving a marriage license based upon the perceived 'threat' they pose to the marital institution is, at bottom, an arbitrary exclusion based upon the majority's disapproval of the defined class," Kern wrote. "It is also insulting to same-sex couples, who are human beings capable of forming loving, committed, enduring relationships."

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin issued a written statement accusing Kern of undermining the will of Oklahoma voters who passed the gay marriage ban by a 3-1 margin in 2004.

"The people of Oklahoma have spoken on this issue. I support the right of Oklahoma's voters to govern themselves on this and other policy matters. I am disappointed in the judge's ruling and troubled that the will of the people has once again been ignored by the federal government," the statement said.

Attorney General Scott Pruitt said the Supreme Court had left it to the states to define marriage and that Kern's ruling was "troubling." He said it would likely take another Supreme Court decision to resolve the matter.

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Gay Phillips, left, her partner Sue Barton, and Mary Bishop and her partner Sharon Baldwin have a champagne toast during a celebration at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, Tuesday, Jan. 14, in Tulsa, Okla.

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