POSTED ON MAY 28, 2008:
California Supreme Court's decision on gay marriage gives Oklahoma gays a cause "someday" for celebration
Wishin' and Hopin'. "We consider it a victory for all Americans that cherish equality and, technically, Oklahoma is unaffected legally by the ruling, but we're definitely hopeful that someday we will have the same opportunity to marry the people we love and protect our families," said Justice Waidner of OkEq.
"As California goes, so goes the nation," they say.
And recently, "they" included San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who prognosticated that the California state Supreme Court's May 15 decision to overturn a ban on gay marriage is a sign of things to come for America at large.
But, Oklahomans on both sides of the debate aren't quite making the same predictions as they weigh-in on the development.
Also, if history repeats itself, the California high court's decision might not ultimately bode well for the hopes of the gay community.
"I think it would be a long time before we get the same sort of situation here in Oklahoma," state Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, told UTW.
"Sally Kern," of course, is now a household name in Oklahoma and elsewhere after a Washington, D.C.-based gay activist group posted a portion of one of her speeches on YouTube earlier this year. Among other controversial remarks, she stated that "the homosexual agenda is a greater threat than terrorism," thereby sparking worldwide media attention and a series of rallies at the Oklahoma state Capitol, both in censure and support of her (for full details, see "Redefining 'Hate'" and "A Thunderstorm of Biblical Proportions" in the March 20-26 issue of UTW at www.urbantulsa.com).
Some of her most vehement critics are Justice Waidner and other members of the Tulsa-based gay rights group, Oklahomans for Equality.
While it's a safe bet that Kern and Waidner don't see eye-to-eye on most issues, they seem to be on the same page when it to comes to the California Supreme Court's decision and its prognosis for Oklahoma.
"We consider it a victory for all Americans that cherish equality and, technically, Oklahoma is unaffected legally by the ruling, but we're definitely hopeful that someday we will have the same opportunity to marry the people we love and protect our families," Waidner told UTW.
And "someday" is apparently the operative word since, she said, her organization doesn't have any plans to seek a similar outcome in Oklahoma by challenging the state's current legal landscape.
At least, not in the courts, anyway.
"At this point, we are committed to looking at a long-term strategy, just for how we're going to address all issues related to LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) equality, looking at strategic planning around that in general," Waidner said.
"One of the areas that we're most interested in, using the California decision, is in community education and working with different organizations and other communities in our city and state around issues of equality and fairness in regard to marriage," she added.
In other words, as in California, so it is in Oklahoma that, just because a law is on the books, that doesn't mean the debate is over. And, as her statement indicates, Waidner and her allies plan to use the California decision as ammunition in that never-ending debate.
Of course, its effectiveness as ammunition might depend on how it holds up under the far-from-finished legal battle in California.
The four-to-three decision by the California Supreme Court determined that a state law passed in 2000, defining marriage as "a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman," is unconstitutional because it discriminates against couples because of sexual orientation which, the court opinion read, "does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights."
"This is a historic moment for California and our country," wrote the San Francisco mayor in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times the day after the court issued its decision.
Newsom took the development as a vindication of his defiance of that law four years ago when he tried to spark a nationwide cultural battle by giving "official" recognition to gay marriage.
"In February 2004, when I ordered San Francisco's county clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, it was with full recognition that as goes California, so goes the nation," he wrote in the aforementioned op-ed piece.
Newsom did indeed succeed in gaining nationwide attention and sparked a heated national debate over the rights of same-sex couples to marry.
But, his political strategizing backfired when many states, including Oklahoma, answered the cultural questions he raised by fortifying the legal barriers to same-sex marriage.
In response to the controversy engendered by Newsom and by the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2004, Oklahoma and several other states adopted constitutional amendments that year, banning same-sex marriages and civil unions.
So, while Newsom, among others, is celebrating the recent ruling as the first of many expected victories to come for the cause of same-sex marriage, it remains to be seen how, or even if the development will play out across the nation.
So far, though, history is repeating itself, at least in California.
The same groups that got the same-sex marriage ban on the ballot as a state statute in 2000 are now trying to do it again, but this time as a constitutional amendment.
"This effort would not only nullify (the May 15) ruling, it could overturn existing laws granting the most basic rights to same-sex couples," Newsom warned.
Also, Kern pointed out that Oklahoma's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage precludes the state Supreme Court ever going the way of California.
She also questioned the righteousness of the court's decision.
"I think it's such a travesty to think four judges--four unelected officials can override the will of the people, and that's really sad," she said.
When the law passed in California in 2000, defining marriage as "a personal relation arising out of a civil contract between a man and a woman," it did so with 61.4 percent voter approval, she pointed out.
"No wonder the citizenry isn't too engaged in the political realm, when all it takes is a handful of judges to override what the people have voted," Kern added.
She also disputed the legal force of the decision.
"This doesn't really make it legal. It was just an opinion that was issued. But, the gay community is taking it as 'Now it's legal,'" she said.
"The judiciary lacks the requisite constitutional authority to overturn any statute passed by the voters. Only the voters themselves can reverse a statute they themselves voted in," Kern also said.
But, the judges on the California Supreme Court apparently don't see it that way. Their decision directs state officials who supervise the enforcement of the state's marriage laws "to ensure that local officials comply with the court's ruling and permit same-sex couples to marry."
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