Moving Forward: Women's Challenge to Federal, Oklahoma Same-Sex Marriage

Article excerpt

A federal lawsuit filed in November 2004 by four women challenging the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act and the Oklahoma ban on gay marriage is moving ahead after a recent ruling in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District in Tulsa.

Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin of Broken Arrow and Tulsans Susan Barton and Gay Phillips filed suit the day after Oklahoma voters approved State Question 711, which added a ban on same-sex marriage to the Oklahoma Constitution.

Bishop, an assistant city editor with the Tulsa World, and Baldwin, a copy editor, have been in a committed relationship for about 10 years and underwent a commitment ceremony in Florida in March 2000.

"It's been kind of a whole adult life yearning for change, but not being able to effect that change, and finally seeing an opportunity," Bishop said Wednesday. "We feel like the momentum is there across the country for this to happen."

Baldwin said she and Bishop are glad U.S. District Judge Terence Kern did not throw the controversial case out, which they thought was a possibility.

"We didn't really expect to win at this level," Baldwin said. "We have bigger fish to fry, and this is just a step in that process."

Bishop said that if they won the case at this level, the federal and state governments would appeal.

"We know that we are willing to take it all the way to the Supreme Court if we lose at these other levels," she said.

Baldwin said that she and Baldwin are aware of the public's general disapproval of gay marriage, although they believe the tide is turning somewhat.

Bishop said other civil rights fights, such as the right to interracial marriage, took many years of litigation, and lower court losses, before they were won.

"In that case, the courts led public opinion," she said. "We think the same thing can happen here."

Barton and Phillips were united in a civil union ceremony in Vermont in 2001 and were married in Canada last year.

The Vermont civil union confers certain legal benefits and responsibilities on participating couples.

The Oklahoma law defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. It also prohibits granting marital status or the "legal incidents" of marriage to gay couples.

The four women say the two laws deny them the rights of due process, equal protection and other constitutional guaranties granted to opposite-sex couples.

Kern said that because Barton and Phillips were joined in a civil union and later married, they could challenge certain portions of the federal law, which allows states not to recognize gay marriages solemnized in other states.

For federal law purposes, DOMA also defines marriage as a legal union of one man and one woman.

Kern said Bishop and Baldwin do not have standing to challenge the federal law, because they have not participated in an official ceremony sanctioning their union.

However, Kern said all four plaintiffs made sufficient allegations to survive a motion to dismiss on the issue of standing regarding the first part of the Oklahoma law, which limits marriage to one man and one woman.

"All four plaintiffs desire to marry in the state of Oklahoma but are prevented from doing so based on the definition of marriage in the Oklahoma amendment," Kern said.

The judge said their alleged injuries are personal, because the Oklahoma law prevents them from taking an action and affects them individually. …