Oklahoma

Oklahoma

Bishop v. Smith

What's Happening:

On July 18, 2014, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals voted in favor of the freedom to marry in Oklahoma, upholding a lower court ruling that declared it unconstitutional for Oklahoma to deny the freedom to marry to same-sex couples.

The state of Oklahoma has said it will seek review directly from the United States Supreme Court. The state has until late October to seek certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The case was brought by by the firm of Holladay & Chilton PLLC and Joseph T. Thai, on behalf of two same-sex couples.

Case Background:

On November 3, 2004, private lawyers in Tulsa filed a federal lawsuit (formerly, Bishop v. United States) in the 10th Circuit on behalf of two same-sex couples seeking an injunction against the United States for enforcing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and against Oklahoma for enforcing its laws restricting the freedom to marry to different-sex couples. The lead plaintiffs, Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin, hail from Tulsa and have been together for 17 years. Another couple, Gay Phillips and Susan Barton, are legally married in Canada and have a civil union in Vermont, are also listed as plaintiffs. 

On January 4, 2013, the anti-marriage Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), which had previously stepped in to defend the law, filed a "Notice of Legal Developments" in the case to urge the court to wait until the Supreme Court rule in Windsor v. United States and Hollingsworth v. Perry. The case was stayed until after a ruling is decided in Windsor.

On July 14, 2013, in the weeks following the landmark ruling striking down the central part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the attorney for the couples requested that the judge assigned to the case, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern, issue a ruling in Bishop v. United States.

The lawsuit was pending for 9 years. Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, applauded the couple for sticking it out. He said, "Whatever the wisdom of a particular litigation in a particular state in the midst of a national movement for the freedom to marry, couples like Mary and Sharon who have gone the full mile to walk down the aisle attest to the undeniable fact that marriage matters, for gay couples as for non-gay." On December 23, lawyers in Bishop v. United States filed an additional brief citing the December 20 ruling from a federal judge in Utah striking down laws in Utah that deny the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. 

On January 14, 2014, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern ruled that laws in Oklahoma prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying are unconstitutional. The judge issued a stay on the ruling pending appeal, so same-sex couples were not immediately allowed to receive marriage licenses. In the same ruling, the judge found that the second couple seeking legal respect for their California marriage license in Oklahoma, Phillips and Barton, lacked legal standing.  

On January 16, the state of Oklahoma filed an appeal of the ruling declaring the marriage ban unconstitutional - and shortly after, Phillips and Barton filed an appeal to the 10th Circuit for their part of the lawsuit, which asked the court to declare that neither an Oklahoma amendment nor federal law can permit Oklahoma to refuse to recognize their California marriage.

The briefing in the appeals hearing has been expedited: Oral arguments were held on April 17 by a three-judge panel in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court issued its ruling affirming the district court ruling on July 17. 

< Back to Litigation page