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Federal appeals court strikes down Oklahoma's same-sex marriage ban

Appeals court issues precedent-setting decision in Utah case that same-sex couples have constitutional right to marry. Decision applies in state even though Oklahoma case is still pending before the appeals court.
by Chris Casteel Published: June 25, 2014

In a precedent-setting decision that applies to Oklahoma, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that state bans on same-sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution.

Ruling 2-1 ruling in a case from Utah, the court agreed with decisions from federal judges in Utah, Oklahoma and several other states that 14th Amendment protections of due process and equal protection apply to same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses.

“We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right to marry, establish a family, raise children and enjoy the full protection of a state’s marital laws,” the court ruled.

“A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognize their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union.”

The 10th Circuit court, which is a step below the U.S. Supreme Court, is also considering the Oklahoma ban, which was struck down in January by U.S. District Judge Terence Kern. The Utah and Oklahoma cases were put on a fast track though they were not officially combined.

Experts said the court’s ruling Wednesday is binding on all states in the circuit, which includes Oklahoma, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Colorado and Kansas. New Mexico does not have a ban on same-sex marriages.

Effect of ruling delayed

Joseph Thai, a University of Oklahoma law professor and co-counsel for the same-sex couples in the Oklahoma case pending before the appeals court, said Wednesday’s ruling “binds all states in the Tenth Circuit, including Oklahoma. But what that means for our particular case, I will defer to the Tenth Circuit to say.”

It is not known when the court will issue an opinion in the Oklahoma case.

Kerri Kupec, spokeswoman for Alliance Defending Freedom, the Arizona-based group representing the Tulsa County Court Clerk and defending Oklahoma’s ban, said it’s possible that the Oklahoma case was decided on different grounds and that’s why it wasn’t released with the Utah case.

She said, “We are disappointed that the 10th circuit did not uphold Utah’s voter-approved marriage amendment that affirmed marriage as a one-man, one-woman union. Every child deserves a mom and a dad, and the people of Utah confirmed that at the ballot box.

“Ultimately, the question whether the people are free to affirm marriage as a one-man, one-woman union will be decided by the Supreme Court.”

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement that his office plans to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 10th Circuit court delayed its ruling from going into effect while it is under appeal, meaning the bans are effectively still in place.

Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin, the Tulsa couple that challenged the Oklahoma ban after being denied a marriage license, said Wednesday that the court’s stay would be lifted if the U.S. Supreme Court does not grant review of the decision and that they could then marry in Oklahoma, possibly as early as this fall.

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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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