In an interview with Oklahoma Gazette, the two Tulsa women said they were confident justice would prevail in their case against the state and its voter-approved ban.
“We always thought we would win and should win, but this is Oklahoma, and you don’t always win when you should,” Baldwin said. “In our case, the state could not justify their discrimination.”
Bishop and Baldwin, both employed at the Tulsa World, said Senior U.S. District Judge Terrence C. Kern “ruled on the law and not the politics of the situation.”
The pair, along with another Tulsa couple, filed their lawsuit in 2004 immediately after Oklahoma voters approved a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The measure received 76 percent approval.
Since Kern issued his decision, reaction from both sides of the debate have been swift and to the point. Same-sex marriage supporters praised the judge’s action while some of Oklahoma’s pastors and top elected officials, including Gov. Mary Fallin and U.S. Congressman James Lankford (R-OKC), condemned the opinion.
Fallin and Lankford complained that the judge’s ruling violates states’ rights and ignores the majority of Oklahomans who voted for the gay marriage ban 10 years ago.
State Rep. Sally Kern went a step further with her comments. In an interview with Tulsa television station KOTV, the Oklahoma City lawmaker said, “Homosexuality is not a civil right; it’s a human wrong.”
Still, Bishop and Baldwin said they’ve received a large amount of support from family, friends and colleagues. The couple believes public opinion is more supportive of same-sex marriages now than when the Oklahoma ban was approved.
“Fallin is troubled because she says it (the judge’s decision) doesn’t reflect the will of the people, but she’s citing 9-yearold data,” Baldwin said. “We believe if that same question were voted on today, the result would be different.”
Nationally, support for same-sex marriages has doubled since 1996, when only 27 percent of Americans favored the idea. Support increased to 42 percent in 2004, the year Oklahoma voted for the ban, and has now risen to 54 percent, according to a July 2013 Gallup poll.
At this point, Baldwin and Bishop are unclear how fast the case will proceed, but Tulsa County Court Clerk Sally Howe, a defendant in the case, has appealed the ruling to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals last week.
In making his decision, Kern described Oklahoma’s ban as “an arbitrary, irrational exclusion of just one class of Oklahoma citizens from a governmental benefit.”
Kern stayed his ruling pending an appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colo. But even then, the case may not be over since most legal experts believe the issue will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court during their next session in the fall.
Another same-sex marriage case from Utah is on appeal in the 10th Circuit Court, and the Tulsa couple is hoping both cases can be heard by the appeals panel at the same time.
“Our lawyers have said they want to get our case on the fast track,” Baldwin said.
Fighting the fight
Like people before them, Baldwin and Bishop believe their legal battle will make a difference.
The same mindset held true in 1967, when Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, her white husband, won a U.S. Supreme Court case that challenged Virginia’s ban on interracial marriages. At that time, the court held that the state’s prohibition was unconstitutional, ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. Oklahoma put an end to its antimiscegenation laws that same year.
“The Loving case has established that marriage is a fundamental right and has been a basis for our case,” Bishop said. “When the Loving case was issue, the majority of people did not approve of interracial marriage, but now they do.”
In 1967, interracial marriage had little public support (4 percent). In 2011, polls showed 86 percent of Americans support interracial marriage.
Last year, a Pew Research Center study found interracial marriages in the U.S. have climbed to 4.8 million, a record 1 in 12 of all marriages nationwide. In all, more than 15 percent of new marriages in 2010 were interracial, according to census information and the 2008-2010 American Community Survey.
Decades before the Loving decision, blacks suffered under discriminatory Jim Crow laws from 1877 to the mid-1960s, when Civil Rights laws were passed.