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Tulsa County court clerk defends Oklahoma's right to define marriage

In new legal filing at federal appeals court, a Tulsa County official says ruling against Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage would federalize “a genderless-marriage institution.”
by Chris Casteel Published: April 3, 2014

— A federal appeals court should uphold Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that states have the power to define marriage, attorneys defending Oklahoma’s ban law say in a new brief.

If the appeals court rules that the Oklahoma ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, the decision “would permanently install a genderless-marriage institution as federal domestic-relations policy nationwide,” according to the brief filed by a Christian legal group representing Tulsa County Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith in the case.

“In that world, the People could never recapture the man-woman marriage institution, regardless of what the best interests of society might dictate,” the brief states.

U.S. District Judge Terence Kern, of Tulsa, in January struck down Oklahoma’s voter-passed ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that it violated a lesbian couple’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law without a rational reason.

Smith, who denied a marriage license to the couple — Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin — has appealed Kern’s decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Denver. The court is considering the Oklahoma case on a fast track with a similar case from Utah, where a state ban was also struck down by a federal judge.

Oral arguments in the Oklahoma case are set for April 17. The appeals court has no deadline for rendering a decision, but its ruling is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Federal law

The U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex married couples.

Both sides in the Oklahoma case have used the Supreme Court decision to support their arguments.

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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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