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
"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