Tulsa couple urge U.S. Supreme Court to use Oklahoma case for nationwide decision on same-sex marriage

A Tulsa County same-sex couple who want to marry have won favorable rulings from a federal judge and appeals court but say the Oklahoma case presents an ideal opportunity for a far-reaching ruling on whether states can ban same-sex marriage.
by Chris Casteel Published: August 27, 2014
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photo - Mary Bishop listens as her partner, Sharon Baldwin, speaks March 17 about the status of appeals in the ongoing same-sex marriage fight in Oklahoma. A federal judge in January struck down a ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that it violated the lesbian couple’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law without a rational reason. 
                  PHOTO BY MICHAEL WYKE, TULSA WORLD
Mary Bishop listens as her partner, Sharon Baldwin, speaks March 17 about the status of appeals in the ongoing same-sex marriage fight in Oklahoma. A federal judge in January struck down a ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that it violated the lesbian couple’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law without a rational reason. PHOTO BY MICHAEL WYKE, TULSA WORLD

The Tulsa County couple who challenged Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage nearly 10 years ago urged the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to use the case to decide the issue for the entire nation.

Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin, who have won favorable rulings this year from a federal judge in Tulsa and a federal appeals court, argued in a brief filed with the high court that the Oklahoma case presents an ideal vehicle for a far-reaching ruling.

“It was the first case in the country filed to challenge the spate of anti-gay-marriage laws enacted in 2004,” the brief states. “This case also lacks any alternative claims or procedural glitches that could prevent this Court from reaching and resolving the fundamental question whether states may deny same-sex couples the right to marry.”

The Supreme Court declined to rule on a California same-sex marriage ban in 2013 because of a key procedural matter — the state wasn’t defending the ban — but justices have been widely expected to revisit the matter.

The brief filed for Bishop and Baldwin states that the court shouldn’t wait.

“Public support for marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans is rising dramatically — a fact that might tempt this Court to put off its consideration of this issue as the democratic march toward equality moves forward,” the brief states.

“But this Court should not defer final resolution of the question presented in this case. It is a bedrock principle of our constitutional system that ‘fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.’”

Three states vie for attention

The brief was filed about three weeks after Tulsa County Clerk Sally Howe Smith — who was sued by Bishop and Baldwin for refusing to grant them a marriage license — urged the justices to take the Oklahoma case to reverse the July decision by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court said the Oklahoma ban violated 14th Amendment guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law.

It is unusual for the winning side — in this case, Bishop and Baldwin — to ask the Supreme Court to hear a case since there is a chance they could lose.

But there are sometimes issues, such as the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, that are so pressing or are the subject of so many lawsuits around the country that a Supreme Court pronouncement seems both inevitable and necessary.

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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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