Tuesday, January 14, 2014 was a historic day for human rights in the state of Oklahoma as U.S. Senior District Judge Terence Kern ruled that Oklahoma’s state ban on same gender marriage is unconstitutional. For some this ruling was an opportunity to dig in their theological heels to claim once again that same gender marriage is against God’s will and to argue that Judge Kern’s ruling was an affront to “states’ rights.” States’ rights arguments for the “right” to treat people unequally? When and where have we heard that argument before? (Hint, today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day.)
Human rights are based on the inherent dignity of each and every person and are not a matter for popular vote. Human rights trump “states’ rights” every time. States never have the “right” to treat persons unequally. This is recognized and affirmed in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. The fact that a high percentage of Oklahomans want to treat people unequally is not a valid reason to treat people unequally, but it is a valid reason to ask, “What is wrong with Oklahoma?”
As some religious leaders in Oklahoma have chosen to speak out publicly against Judge Kern’s ruling, there are others who see the decision as an important step in the process of expressing love and justice for all people. Those of us Oklahoma United Methodist clergy who put the following ad in the state’s two major newspapers on the Sunday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day are among the many clergy in our state and beyond who celebrated this step forward for all persons:
“MANY OKLAHOMA UNITED METHODIST CLERGY, THROUGH OUR ENGAGEMENT WITH SCRIPTURE, TRADITION, REASON, AND EXPERIENCE, AFFIRM THE RIGHTS AND DIGNITY OF ALL PEOPLE AND CELEBRATE THE RECENT DECISION BY JUDGE KERN THAT THE BAN ON SAME GENDER MARRIAGE IN OKLAHOMA IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL. TODAY WE CELEBRATE WITH OUR LGBTQ BROTHERS AND SISTERS AND PLEDGE TO EXPRESS LOVE, AFFIRMATION, AND EQUAL TREATMENT FOR ALL PEOPLE.”
As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us all: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This matters.