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Closer, but not equal


A marriage equality ruling might not solve all of the problems facing our community.

Ben Felder April 9th, 2014

As the national mood surrounding same-sex marriage continues to shift toward acceptance, judges across the country — including in Oklahoma — have ruled that couples of the same gender have the right to marry.

While a growing populace might be willing to live in a society that embraces the rights of gay and lesbian couples, a sizable demographic remains set against it.

And in Oklahoma, which profiles much more conservative than many of the states that have already legalized same-sex marriage, a judge’s ruling this year isn’t expected to magically shift the state’s cultural viewpoints.

“Do you understand what is going to happen if you settle a 50-50 issue by judicial review?” asked Oklahoma City University law professor Andrew Spiropoulos. “It’s not going to be pretty.”

During a recent panel discussion on same-sex marriage hosted by OCU’s law school, Spiropoulos argued for letting the democratic process, rather than the courts, bring a change in marriage laws.

Pointing to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case on abortion that continues to cause division, Spiropoulos believes a judge’s ruling would only make the same-sex debate even more divisive, especially in a state like Oklahoma.

Troy Stevenson isn’t buying it. “[Same-sex] marriage became legal in Massachusetts in 2004, and the sky didn’t fall,” said Stevenson, executive director of The Equality Network’s Oklahoma chapter.

Stevenson admits that Oklahoma is different culturally than Massachusetts or California, but he believes attitudes are changing locally and marriage equality wouldn’t cause too many personal problems.

However, he does see potential legal issues, should same-sex marriage become law.

“The difference in Oklahoma and many states in the Midwest and the South is we don’t have the employment protection [laws],” Stevenson said.

Stevenson says employers in the state could theoretically fire an employee for entering a same-sex marriage. But he also realizes it is many corporations that are leading the way for marriage equality.

A federal judge in Oklahoma ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional earlier this year, and an appeal is scheduled to be heard this month. Oklahoma could become a state where marriage equality is legalized, or at the very least, it appears same-sex marriage is an issue that could make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming years.

“I think that marriage equality is inevitable,” said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma.

Kiesel said a ruling that makes same-sex marriage legal in Oklahoma won’t instantly make the state friendly toward gay couples and individuals.

“I think that we are going to have situations where housing could become an issue. We could have [landlords] say, ‘We are not going to rent to you because of your sexual orientation.’” Those types of challenges are the reason legal experts like Spiropoulos advocate for letting the cultural mood, rather than the courts, lead change.

“On its own, I think takes too long,” Kiesel said. “That’s why, at times, you have to find yourself in courts.”

 
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