I’ve always hated the term “The Heartland”. First, it sounds condescending and folksy, like a calico quilt. It also seems ironic that an area of the country named with a term involving a symbol of love can treat people who are different from them with such disdain. I was horrified when Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin hatefully denied the state’s same-sex national guard members federal benefits at the end of last year. This week, I can be proud of the state my family hails from, but no longer lives in. (We moved to the much more progressive state of Missouri, she said, dripping with sarcasm.) Why? Marriage equality.
The first person I told about U.S. Senior District Judge Kern striking down Oklahoma’s 2004 law aimed to discriminate against same-sex couples was my oldest daughter Rowan. Judge Kern, in an elegant opinion, concluded that Oklahoma’s ban on gay marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and is an “arbitrary and irrational exclusion of just one class of citizenry.” We speak very openly about issues of equality, tolerance and diversity at home. LGBT rights are especially important because we want to support the bevy of gay and lesbian friends who have so enriched our lives. I remember a close gay friend of mine from high school fielding a question from a classmate at our reunion. The classmate he hadn’t seen in ten years who didn’t know my friend was gay asked whether he was married. With a smirk on his face, my friend replied simply, “They won’t let me.”
Bishop v. Oklahoma has languished in the federal court system for nearly a decade. Oklahoma, arguably one of the most conservative states in the country, wasn’t on anyone’s radar as remotely likely to recognize the rights of its gay citizens to marry any time soon, let alone to be one of the first nearly twenty states to do so. I assumed Oklahoma would only allow gay marriage after kicking and screaming at the bitter end of the pack. Governor Fallin’s predictable and ill-informed response that Judge Kern ruled contrary to the will of the majority of Oklahomans is un-compelling, to say the least. If a law is unconstitutional, it doesn’t matter how fervently opposed its citizenry are to it. Many states also condemned interracial marriage and advocated segregation, but the states gradually overturned those laws realizing that when individual’s Constitutional rights are ignored, we all lose.
Upon hearing the exciting news, I promptly called myriad friends from Oklahoma to gush about the ruling. Certainly they were happy to hear it, but something struck me as odd. I was the first person to advise most of them what had happened in their own state, sometimes in their own town. It felt like being the first to tell Red Socks fans in Boston that their team won the World Series. I understand everyone has their pet hot-button issues, and that marriage equality may not be high up on some folks’ list. As an attorney, I pay more attention to court rulings, and I am admittedly a pinko with extra time on my hands. Also, I lived in Oklahoma for the majority of my adult life and graduated high school, college and law school from there. But then it dawned on me that this nonchalance was awesome. We all know it’s just a matter of time before every U.S. citizen, regardless of the state in which they live, will be able to marry who they love. The red-neck farmer and the gay cowboy can be friends.
I got a beautiful feelin’.