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Oklahoma

Nine years after filing gay marriage lawsuit, couple still waits for day in court

Saturday, December 14, 2013
Okla gay marriage

Eric Turner, AP
In this Oct. 10, 2013 photo, Sharon Baldwin (left) and Mary Bishop speak at East Central University in Ada, Okla., as part of the ECU Gay-Straight Alliance’s National Coming Out Day event. Bishop and Baldwin are two of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in November 2004 in federal court in Tulsa challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act and the Oklahoma Constitution’s ban on same-sex marriage.

TULSA, Okla. — Two same-sex couples who sued for the right to marry in conservative Oklahoma knew it would be a struggle, but they couldn’t have expected that nine years later, they would still be awaiting their day in court.

Their federal lawsuit is the longest-running active lawsuit against the Defense of Marriage Act, according to national gay marriage advocacy group Freedom to Marry.

Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin, a Tulsa couple together for 17 years, and another couple filed the lawsuit in November 2004, shortly after Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Although the suit was revised in 2009 to name the Tulsa County clerk as a defendant, it maintains its original claim that the women should be allowed to marry in Oklahoma.

“While some people are getting their day in court and finding justice, we are sitting here, for nine years, with our hands tied,” Bishop said.

The duration of the case strikingly contrasts the spate of lawsuits filed since the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the federal government in June to recognize legal same-sex marriages.

The case that sparked that ruling – involving 83-year-old New York widow Edith Windsor – reached the high court only three years after it was filed. The case challenged an estate tax levied after Windsor’s wife died.

Yet even with that case decided, Bishop and Baldwin, who met while working at the Tulsa World newspaper, haven’t been able to get a hearing in a Tulsa court. Their fellow plaintiffs are Gay Phillips and Susan Barton, who legally married in Canada and have a civil union in Vermont.

Their lawsuit also challenges the Defense of Marriage Act, including parts addressed in Windsor’s case but also phrasing that says individual states don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

The couples’ lawyer recently filed paperwork with U.S. District Court Judge Terence Kern, the judge overseeing their case, noting the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in case he was waiting for the high court to weigh in on the issue, Baldwin said.

“We’ve had absolutely no guidance from the judge in terms of what he’s thinking, what his idea of is how this is going to proceed,” she said. “Just let us have our day in court. I mean, we’re being held hostage and the right of gays and lesbians all over the state of Oklahoma are being held hostage.”

A message left with Kern by The Associated Press was not returned.

The lawsuit made it to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006 after the district court denied the governor and the state attorney general’s motion to dismiss the case.

The appeals court ruled in 2009 that they lacked standing, so the two couples filed an amended complaint removing the governor and attorney general as defendants, and adding the Tulsa County Court clerk, who issues marriage licenses.

A trial was scheduled for May 2012, but it was held up as other gay marriage-related cases made their way through other federal courts.

After the couples’ lawyer pointed out the Windsor decision to Kern, lawyers for the Tulsa County clerk said the couples had overstated the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.

“Windsor does not forbid States like Oklahoma from preserving marriage as the union of one man and one woman. On the contrary, Windor’s (sic) repeated references to state sovereignty over the definition of marriage bolster the defense of Oklahoma’s Marriage Amendment,” attorney Byron Babione wrote.

It’s unclear what will happen in the case. But Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, lauded Baldwin and Bishop for their persistence.

“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 un deniable fact that marriage matters, for gay couples as for non-gay,” Wolfson said.

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37 more reader comments:

  1. No court case should ever take this long.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 9:00pm
  2. Most court cases that SCOTUS hears (with few exceptions- see Bush v. Gore) take at least this long

    Replied on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 9:18pm
  3. It should never have needed to come to court

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 9:06pm
  4. Disgusting… CLEARLY the judge is an ASS on this matter. You don’t let this wait 9 years. That’s purely discriminatory. Period…

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 9:09pm
  5. Some say Justice is blind. If I saw all the corruption, lies, and innocent people victimized by police, lawyers, and judges over the decades, I’d probably put my eyes out, too.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 9:31pm
  6. Judge taking to long. Switch judges.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 9:43pm
  7. What ever happened to a speedy trial.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 9:55pm
  8. X X

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 10:02pm
  9. They were the very first in the nation to file.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 10:04pm
  10. We’re hanging in there for as long as it takes.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 10:26pm
  11. These two ladies are quite lovely. I have the pleasure of knowing both. Fight on!

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 10:32pm
  12. It’s bc it’s Oklahoma the most back ass wards state in the country..I hate it here

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 11:01pm
  13. Life in amurkia

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 11:51pm
  14. Dani Leonard worse than Texas?

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 11:52pm
  15. Yeah, this would be the type of thing that would justify drop kicking some judge out to sea. I’m getting my steel toe boots on now.

    Posted on Saturday, December 14, 2013 at 11:57pm
  16. ITS ALSO THE ATTORNIES ON THE OTHER SIDE THAT POSTPONE POSTPONE POSTPONE !!! THEY MAKE A TON OF $$$ & takes FOREVER !!! Court SYSTEM is a JOKE !!!

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 1:26am
  17. BUT ITS ALL WE HAVE !!!

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 1:27am
  18. Descrimination!

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 1:32am
  19. These Ladies ROCK!

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 2:09am
  20. discrimination for sure-

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 2:24am
  21. Hang in there,it can’t stop the heart from loving each other.God bless you both.

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 2:47am
  22. 9 years to wait is a travesty. It’s obvious Oklahoma is not interested in equality….shame on them.

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 4:15am
  23. Not all of Oklahomans are against equality. Many are good and progressive people. Oklahoma is slowly progressing. Not very fast, but step by step.

    Replied on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 1:09pm
  24. I think Indiana is the most ass backwards state! Sucks living here!

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 5:39am
  25. Hang in there beautiful women, this too shall pass. Before too long I am sure it will be a law <3

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 5:39am
  26. We’re nothing if not persistent!

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 8:28am
  27. when I want to get married to my girlfriend they better just marry us shit no body got. Tyme. For dat bull shit waiting waiting waiting.

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 11:53am
  28. I grew up in Oklahoma. There are many, many good, loving and progressive people there. I will always love the state. But the governor, Mary Fallin, is a moron…among many other idiots in positions of power. The state still has a long way to go in achieving equality for all. But I hope Ok. keeps moving in that direction.

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 1:06pm
  29. ladies i am from ok. and i know your battle too well…trying ot make it through the 80′s was a nightmare for me…i hope your journey goes swiftly

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 2:02pm
  30. Gwendolyn I lived In TX for 4 yrs and it has nothing on Oklahoma and how backwards it is

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 2:30pm
  31. not surprised, the conservative philosophy is to maintain things as they have been, regardless of who’s rights they violate; this couple need the full support of the Gay community in lobbying their respective reps in Government, Discrimination must tackled in all its forms.

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 3:13pm
  32. really… people…

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 10:21pm
  33. look at the love in her eyes, i see no reason why love should be illegal.
    if you don’t like homosexuality, don’t be homosexual.

    seriously, HATE is legal, but LOVE isn’t? ass backwards world we live in.

    Posted on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 11:43pm
  34. Quite right. People can watch horrible violence on television, but the sight of two people in a bed together is considered too much to put on prime time. We see hatred and ignorance every day, but we are told love and open-mindedness are wrong. This is a sick world, and we're the ones who can fix the problem.

    Replied on Sunday, December 15, 2013 at 11:57pm
  35. Not even just in bed, people are offended to see it anywhere, yet Heterosexual couples can proudly display public forms of affection like it's nothing. People assume homosexuals are going to plague the world, but the world is already plagued. Love surely isn't going to make it any worse. But breeding hate and diversion sure will.

    Replied on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 12:00am
  36. Good for them for perservering, they should have had their day in court long, long, ago!!

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 2:44am
  37. It’s unbelievable that y’all want to boycott the Salvation Army. They help so many people all year long. They don’t discriminate like y’all do. I will support them and my Christian belief!!!

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 2:04pm