By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Oklahoma’s appeal on Same-Gender marriage, which came as a surprise to most Oklahomans The decision leaves intact a lower court ruling declaring the ban unconstitutional last July.
Federal appeals courts had struck down bans against gay marriage in five states — Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Now those rulings will stand.
“This is a victory not just for same-gender couples, but all Oklahomans,” Scott Hamilton, Executive Director of the Cimarron Alliance said, “All Oklahomans are equal in the eyes of the law.”
The Cimarron Alliance Equality Center In Oklahoma City, has worked closely on this case with Don Holladay, lead attorney for plaintiff’s in the nearly 10 year old marriage equality case filed by Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin and Gay Phillips and Sue Barton, of Tulsa.
As the news broke, Cimarron Alliance quickly called a noon press conference on the day of the High Court action, then held a celebration that evening (Monday, October 6).
At the celebration, a crowd of about 100 people cheered as Hamilton welcomed all who had supported the long, hard fought lawsuit.
Adam Bates, a supportive Republican, spoke of “enemies” such as aggression, violence, hate and ignorance plaguing Oklahoma. “As long as the government licenses marriages it must license all marriages,” Bates said. “This is a big win today, but the fight is not over.”
Attorney Richard Ogden praised the LGBT community for hard work leading up to the historic day.
The evening celebration had a festive atmosphere with a large banner reading, “Stand on the Side of Love” and red, pink and gold balloons were released with cheers.
Following the rally, there was a marriage performed outside the Cimarron Alliance building. Ashlee and Lisa Boren of Oklahoma City were wed by Universal Life Church minister Red McCall. An excited Ashlee said, “We always told each other that the day that it happened we’re doing it no matter what.”
“Governor Fallin talks a good deal about some amorphous invention in law called ‘state’s rights.’ said James Nimmo, communications chair, OKC chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church & State. “When she shows me her copy of the Code of State’s Rights I’ll show her my copy of the Gay Agenda.”
The marriage-equality lawsuit was filed in November 2004, the day after 76 percent of Oklahoma voters approved State Question 711, which codified a ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution.
U.S. District Judge Terence Kern of the Northern District of Oklahoma in Tulsa later ruled in January that the ban is unconstitutional. He stayed his ruling in anticipation of an appeal, so no same-sex couples were able to marry in Oklahoma.
Lawyers for the defendant, Tulsa County Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith, appealed Kern’s ruling to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals where a three-judge panel heard the oral arguments on April 17. In July the lower court struck down the ban on same-gender marriage in Oklahoma. The state appealed that ruling.
Bishop and Baldwin issued a statement saying, “We are no doubt as stunned as the rest of the country with the Supreme Court’s decision today to not hear the seven same-sex marriage cases before it.”
This decision effectively makes same-sex marriage legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia. Justices have left unresolved the question of same-sex marriage nationwide.
The Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the stay on gay marriages in Oklahoma around noon that day, allowing marriage licenses to be issued to same sex couples. Marriages began immediately.
By 1:30 p.m. Bishop and Baldwin became the first same-sex couple in Tulsa County to secure a marriage license. They were married on the steps of the Tulsa County Court House later that day.
Oklahomans for Equality Executive Director Toby Jenkins stood with Baldwin and Bishop, while Judge Jane Wiseman, Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, officiated the ceremony.
“Although we are delighted that we will be married in Oklahoma, we remain frustrated that for the moment we will not be married in three adjoining states and others across the country,” Bishop’s and Baldwin’s statement said. “This is not an acceptable way to operate in a mobile society such as we have.”
Oklahoma City resident Ivan Hutchcroft said, “It’s a wonderful day for equality in Oklahoma and now in 30 states in the country. It’s a message to our governor and legislature that the constitution and individual rights trump state law. It’s America first then your state.”
While startling, the High Court ruling was anticipated in some arenas.
Oklahoma City photographer Chris Heldenbrand said, “I noticed in the last couple of weddings I shot, the Oklahoma marriage license has been changed from “Signature of Male” and “Signature of Female” to “Spouse 1” and “Spouse 2.” I think they saw this coming.”
“One era of discrimination in Oklahoma will be resigned to the history books,” said Ryan Kiesel, ACLU of Oklahoma Executive Director. “As we celebrate, we know that this giant step towards equality must not be the last.
“Right here in Oklahoma, we have work to do to ensure that no one is discriminated against by an employer or a landlord for exercising their Constitutionally protected right to marry.”
At Mayflower Congregational UCC Church on NW 63rd, a large crowd witnessed 13 same-sex couples unite in wedlock. Lori Walke, Mayflower associate pastor officiated.
The event was sponsored by Freedom Oklahoma. Members of ACLU-OK spoke to the audience about the legal ramifications of the Supreme Court’s announcement.
Mayflower senior pastor Robin Meyers said, “Love is the same, whether a man marries a man or a woman marries a woman. It is a covenant. It is who you are in love with. The government has no business telling anyone who they can be in love with and who they can spend the rest of their lives with.”
Local newlyweds included longtime partners of 18 years Kenny Wright and Barry Bass, as well as Paula and Pam Schonauer, partners for 17 years.
Brady Henderson, ACLU-OK Legal Director said, “Though the order from the U.S. Supreme Court consisted of just eight words, it is life-changing for thousands of Oklahomans. True equality is not just about what the law books say, but how we treat one another in everyday life as fellow Oklahomans.”