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Appeals court rules Oklahoma ban on same-sex marriage violates U.S. Constitution

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals puts same-sex marriages on hold in Oklahoma until U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to hear appeal in Utah or Oklahoma cases.
by Chris Casteel Modified: July 18, 2014 at 8:29 pm •  Published: July 18, 2014


photo -  
                 Sharon Baldwin, left, and her partner Mary Bishop speak with members of the media before boarding a plane to Denver on Wednesday at Tulsa International Airport. Baldwin and Bishop plan to attend hearings at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on their lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s ban on gay marriage. 
                   ASSOCIATED PRESS
Sharon Baldwin, left, and her partner Mary Bishop speak with members of the media before boarding a plane to Denver on Wednesday at Tulsa International Airport. Baldwin and Bishop plan to attend hearings at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on their lawsuit challenging Oklahoma’s ban on gay marriage. ASSOCIATED PRESS

— A federal appeals court officially declared Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional Friday but temporarily delayed the ruling to allow time for a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 2-1 decision by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinforced the court’s ruling last month in a similar case from Utah.

That ruling effectively made same-sex marriage legal in all six states that are part of the circuit: Oklahoma, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming and New Mexico.

The court found in the Utah case that marriage is a fundamental right and that excluding gay couples violated their 14th Amendment guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law. Friday, the court applied the Utah ruling to Oklahoma’s ban, which was passed overwhelmingly by state voters in 2004.

Because the court put its ruling on hold, as it did in the Utah case, it was not known Friday when same-sex couples in Oklahoma will be allowed to marry.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected eventually to decide the broad question of whether states can constitutionally ban same-sex marriage. With challenges active in courts across the country, justices potentially could put new marriages on hold in the 31 states where it’s illegal until that issue is resolved.


Read what local religious leaders had to say about the ruling.

However, if the Supreme Court isn’t ready to take up the issue and doesn’t put its own hold on lower court decisions, Oklahoma couples could get the green light to marry in a few months.

Utah officials already have signaled their intent to seek a high court review. The Tulsa County court clerk, who has been defending the Oklahoma ban in federal court, now has to decide whether to appeal to the nation’s highest court.

Couple rejoice

The Tulsa County couple who challenged the ban nearly a decade ago hailed the decision.

“We are so grateful that the 10th Circuit understands what more and more people across this country are beginning to realize — that gay and lesbian people are citizens who should enjoy the same rights as straight people under the law,” Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin said in a joint statement.

“We would like to thank the court for its time and careful consideration of our case, and we look forward to seeing Oklahoma gay and lesbian couples who love each other and want their relationships recognized by their government take part fully in that right.”

Norman attorney Don Holladay, who took up the couple’s case when it seemed to be unraveling five years ago, said the decision Friday wasn’t anti-climactic even though the Utah decision had settled the basic question in the 10th Circuit states.

“We wanted an Oklahoma decision,” Holladay said. “When you have two couples in committed, loving relationship who have waited so long ... it’s just a special day because this decision is about the Oklahoma ban.”

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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