Today U.S. Senior District Judge Terence Kern ruled that Oklahoma’s ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional. His ruling is stayed pending appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals — the same court that Utah is appealing a similar ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby. Marriages will not occur immediately in the Sooner State.
Kern, a Clinton appointee, has had the case before him since 2004. Two plaintiff couples, Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin and Gay Phillips and Susan Barton, filed their case, Bishop v. Oklahoma, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma in November 2004. Lead counsel in the case are Don Holladay and James Warner of the Oklahoma City law firm Holladay & Chilton PLLC.
Bishop and Baldwin were persistent in their attempts to get Kern to rule on the case for over nine years.
“We’ve had absolutely no guidance from the judge in terms of what he’s thinking, what his idea of is how this is going to proceed,” Bishop told the Associate Press in December. “Just let us have our day in court. I mean, we’re being held hostage and the right of gays and lesbians all over the state of Oklahoma are being held hostage.”
Kern was silent with all parties, including the press and plaintiffs, before he ruled.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, lauded Baldwin and Bishop for their persistence.
“Whatever the wisdom of a particular litigation in a particular state in the midst of a national movement for the freedom to marry, couples like Mary and Sharon who have gone the full mile to walk down the aisle attest to the undeniable fact that marriage matters, for gay couples as for non-gay,” Wolfson said.
HRC President Chad Griffin lauded Kern’s ruling.
“Judge Kern has come to the conclusion that so many have before him — that the fundamental equality of lesbian and gay couples is guaranteed by the United States Constitution,” Griffen said in a statement. “With last year’s historic victories at the Supreme Court guiding the way, it is clear that we are on a path to full and equal citizenship for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans. Equality is not just for the coasts anymore, and today’s news from Oklahoma shows that time has come for fairness and dignity to reach every American in all 50 states.”
The ruling comes on the heels of a year-long string of electoral, judicial and legislative victories for marriage equality. In recent weeks both the New Mexico Supreme Court and a federal district judge in Utah have ruled in favor of marriage for lesbian and gay couples