Meet the Plaintiffs in Bishop v. United States
Meet the Plaintiffs in Bishop v. Smith
For nearly 30 years, Susan Barton and Gay Phillips have lived together in the state of Oklahoma, the state where they fell in love and built their lives.
Over the course of their lives together, Susan and Gay have tried again and again to protect their relationship, striving for recognition of their many years of love and commitment whenever they could. That's why in 2001, when Vermont became the first state to extend any legal respect to same-sex couples with its civil union law, the women traveled there to join together in civil union. And, in subsequent years, they said "I Do" and received legal marriage licenses in Canada and California.
Even with three legal documents expressly declaring their commitment to each other and their promise to care for one another in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, Gay and Susan are legal strangers to each other in Oklahoma.
The couple run a company called Barton, Phillips and Associates, Inc. that provides training and support for organizations across the country that serve runaway and homeless teenagers. They contribute to their community, they give back to society, and they should be afforded the respect and dignity that all other people in Oklahoma receive.
The women have been thrilled to receive support from all across the state of Oklahoma in the past few years as their case has worked its way through the courts.
"There are many, many people out there who do support, who know gay couples, who know gay couples who are married in other states who wish to be married in Oklahoma," Susan said. "We have the support of social institutions, of clergy of churches, businesses. And now we hope that the appeals court understands that Oklahoma is ready for the freedom to marry for all."
Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin come from a long line of Oklahomans - Mary's great-great-great-grandparents settled in the territory before statehood, and Sharon's great-grandparents and grandparents settled there after a long journey on a covered wagon. Oklahoma is their home, and it's where they want to marry and legally recognize their 17 years of commitment to one another.
"Sharon is a fourth-generation Oklahoman, and I'm a sixth-generation Oklahoman," Mary said. "We don't see why we should have to go anywhere else."
Mary and Sharon met in the newsroom of The Tulsa World, the newspaper where they still work today. They began dating after building a strong friendship, and in 2000, they declared their commitment to each other in a beautiful ceremony.
When they learned the news of the ruling in their lawsuit earlier this year, Mary and Sharon had just arrived at work. They went over to the federal court reporter's desk, and were stunned to finally read the decision nine years in the making.
"We knew this ruling could have come down any day, but we had no idea when it would be," Sharon said. "When we saw it, we screamed, and people in the newsroom were aware that something was going on. But then the tears of joy began to flow. We were elated."
Now, they're hopeful that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals will stand on the right side of history and rule in favor of the freedom to marry.
"For nine years, it has been our goal to change the country, to change the nation," Sharon said. "And we're finally waking up to the realization that we're about there. After nine years of stagnant waiting, we're about there."