OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A coalition of same-sex couples and their supporters gathered Tuesday at the state Capitol to launch a statewide campaign intended to teach Oklahomans about marriage equality.
The public education campaign, called Freedom Oklahoma, comes the same month that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver is set to hear a case regarding the state's ban on same-sex marriages.
"We must remember that freedom means freedom for everyone," said Troy Stevenson, executive director of The Equality Network. "As long as Oklahomans are denied the dignity and the freedom of marriage, as long as they are fired from their jobs for just being who they are and living open and honest lives, we will continue to fight to make sure that these voices are heard and to make sure that we all remember equality is not a question of if, but a question of when, and we plan to make sure that happens sooner rather than later."
The coalition is made up of same-sex couples, their families, religious leaders, parents of gay individuals and advocates for marriage equality. The campaign is a project of The Equality Network, a statewide LGBT organization, and will hold various events throughout the state.
Kim McDonald and Rebeka Radcliff, of Tulsa, were forced to travel out of state to marry, and Kim's mom was unable to witness the nuptials because of a recent cancer diagnosis. The two are raising an infant son, Jordan, and Radcliff said they do not want to raise their son in a state that does not recognize them as family.
"We have to think twice about things most married people take for granted, like filling out a school form or visiting the doctor's office," Radcliff said as McDonald held their young son at the campaign launch event.
McDonald said the two were born in Oklahoma and raised in the state's schools and churches. They want to remain in the state with their marriage recognized.
"This is the state where we fell in love, where we want to raise our son. Oklahoma is and will always be special in our hearts and the place where we want to spend the rest of our lives together," McDonald said.
Allen Buck, a pastor at Summit United Methodist Church in Edmond, said during the news conference at the Capitol that the right for marriage equality can be a divisive issue, especially in faith settings. But he said God is about love, pure and simple.
"Jesus lived and died for love. The gospel is about a radical acceptance of all people — even you and me — especially, especially those that are being marginalized and oppressed," he said.
In January, U.S. federal judge Terence Kern ruled that Oklahoma's voter-approved same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional, saying it excluded one class of citizens from a constitutional right. But the state argues that if the ruling stands, it would send the message that marriage exists "to advance adult desires" rather than putting children's needs first. Children are better off with a mother and a father, the state contends. The appeals court is set to hear the case April 17. The court also will hear a similar appeal out of Utah on April 10.
The Oklahoma case is among 66 in various courts across the country regarding same-sex marriage, said Ryan Kiesel, executive director of ACLU Oklahoma.
"It goes without saying that there have been unprecedented victories in LGBT rights across the country in the last several years," he said. "But until those victories are uniform — until you can travel from one state into the next — can we really call them a victory?"