U.S. appeals court rules for marriage equality in Oklahoma case

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on July 18 upheld the decision from U.S. District Judge Terence Kern that Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment barring marriage for same-sex couples violates the U.S. Constitution.

"Today's decision means that my husband and I can travel 'home' and know that our family will be treated with the same fairness and dignity as any other married couple," said Don Howerton a board member of Marriage Equality USA as he cheered the ruling. "Oklahoma is a big part of who I am — I was born and raised there, went to the University of Oklahoma, and have many friends and family there." 

The 2-1 decision from the panel was written by Judge Carlos Lucero, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. The judges ruled, "State bans on the licensing of same-sex marriage significantly burden the fundamental right to marry."

Earlier this summer, the same panel of judges ruled for marriage equality in a case from Utah, Kitchen v. Herbert, which is on track to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oklahoma can either request a review before the full bench of the Tenth Circuit, it can appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court or it can follow the ruling.

The Oklahoma case involves two couples — Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin and Gay Phillips and Susan Barton — who in November 2004 sued the state for enforcing an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution that prohibits the state from performing or recognizing marriages between same-sex couples. The suit also initially challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act but the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key sections of that law last summer.

The federal district court ruled in favor of the couples in mid-January. Soon after that, the state appealed.

The plaintiffs in Bishop v. Smith are represented by attorneys from Holladay & Chilton PLLC, Jennings Cook & Teague PC, Studebaker & Worley PLLC, and Phillip Craig Bailey.

Responding to the news, Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign, said, "For years, the plaintiffs in this case and their attorneys have argued on behalf of equality and justice in the court room. Today’s victory brings us ever closer to the day when all committed and loving gay and lesbian couples have the right to marry the person they love, regardless of what state they call home."

He added, “There’s no question that the U.S. Supreme Court must take up the issue to decide once and for all whether or not states can continue to treat committed and loving gay and lesbian couples as second class citizens.”

There are more than 70 court cases challenging marriage bans across the country. Cases from 11 states are currently pending before five federal appeals court. Since the Supreme Court’s historic marriage rulings last year, there have been 17 consecutive federal court decisions that bans on marriage equality are unconstitutional.

Cases pending before federal appeals courts:

• Bostic v. Schaefer, Virginia [Arguments at the Fourth Circuit heard May 13]

• DeLeon v. Perry, Texas [Argument date at the Fifth Circuit not set]

• Tanco v. Haslam, Tennessee [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for Aug. 6]

• Bourke vs. Beshear, Kentucky [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for Aug. 6]

• Obergefell v. Kasich, Ohio [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for Aug. 6]

• Henry v. Himes, Ohio [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for Aug. 6]

• DeBoer v. Snyder, Michigan [Arguments at the Sixth Circuit set for Aug. 6]

• Wolf v. Walker, Wisconsin [Arguments at the Seventh Circuit set for Aug. 13]

• Baskin v. Bogan, Indiana [Arguments at the Seventh Circuit set for Aug. 13]

• Sevcik v. Sandoval, Nevada [Argument at the Ninth Circuit set for Sept. 8

• Latta v. Otter, Idaho [Argument at the Ninth Circuit set for Sept. 8]

• Jackson v. Abercrombie, Hawaii [Argument at the Ninth Circuit set for Sept. 8]

Cases petitioned to the U.S. Supreme Court:

• Kitchen v. Herbert, Utah [Tenth Circuit struck down marriage ban June 25]