State Representatives in Oklahoma passed a bill on Mar. 10 removing judges from marriage proceedings. Instead, members of the clergy must sign new marriage licenses.
Couples that wish to have a traditional religious ceremony when they marry must have a marriage certificate signed by clergy. Those who do not want to go through with a religious ceremony can apply for a common-law affidavit, which will not have to be signed by clergy members.
The legislation’s most vocal supporter is state Sen. Todd Russ, who said the point of the law is to “leave marriage in the hands of the clergy,” rather than controlled by government.
In the vote, the proposal passed in the state House easily, by a tally of 67 to 24.
According to the Washington Times, a 2004 amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman was approved overwhelmingly by state residents, with 76 percent support. A decade later, it was removed due to its unconstitutionality followed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals legalizing gay marriage in Oklahoma.
The federal courts interfering in state law is what concerns Russ the most.
“Marriage was historically a religious covenant first and a government-recognized contract second. Under my bill, the state is not allowing or disallowing same-sex marriage. It is simply leaving it up to the clergy,” said Russ in an interview with a local newspaper.
However, not everyone sees it this way, including Troy Stevenson, the executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, an LGBT rights group. Stevenson remained concerned about protecting the rights of same-sex couples.
“This legislation puts all couples who plan to marry in Oklahoma at risk of being denied hundreds of federal legal rights and protections, if it were to become law. The federal government and other states will not be required to acknowledge these proposed ‘marriage certificates.’ This legislation will only result in mass confusion from clerks’ offices to courtrooms around the nation – while putting Oklahoma’s families at risk,” said Stevenson in an interview with The Oklahoman.
In October 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear cases of marriage equality in five different states – Wisconsin, Indiana, Virginia, Utah and Oklahoma – which had a ban on same-sex marriage at the time. These bans were removed after the Court’s announcement and, in the case of Oklahoma, upheld by a lower court ruling.
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