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Judge calls Okla. gay marriage ban unconstitutional

TULSA, Okla. — A federal judge on Tuesday struck down Oklahoma’s gay marriage ban, saying it violates the US Constitution, but immediately stayed the effects of the ruling while the courts sort out the matter.

In his ruling, US District Judge Terrence Kern criticized a law that was approved by voters in 2004 in this conservative state known as the buckle of the Bible Belt. He described the gay marriage ban as ‘‘an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit.’’

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The Oklahoma ruling comes about a month after a federal judge in Utah overturned that state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Hundreds of couples got married there before the US Supreme Court intervened, putting a halt to the weddings until the courts sort out the matter. Kern cited that case in issuing the stay of his own ruling.

The constitutional amendment approved by Oklahoma voters says marriage consists only of the union of one man and one woman. Kerns said the measure violates the US Constitution’s equal-protection clause by precluding same-sex couples from receiving an Oklahoma marriage license.

‘‘Equal protection is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed. It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions. Therefore, the majority view in Oklahoma must give way to individual constitutional rights,’’ Kern wrote.

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