EQUALITY: Same-sex marriage now legal in Oklahoma 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqZWKDzGj8Y]

Kenny Wright’s hands were shaking, a common site for a man about to get married.

The marriage day had long been planned, dreamed of and talked about. But never seemed like a possibility until this year and never a reality until Monday.

“Its been a long hard wait and a long hard fight,” said Wright, who was minutes away from legally marrying his partner of 18-years, Barry Bass.

2014 had been a year of victories for Oklahoma same-sex marriage advocates as state and federal court rooms ruled against a state-imposed ban. Monday the United States Supreme Court announced it would not hear an appeal to the latest ruling in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals making same-sex marriage legal, which brought marriage equality to 11 states, including Oklahoma.

“We have been in tears all morning,” Bass said.

click to enlarge Kenny Wright and BArry Bass wait in the hallway of the Oklahoma Count Courthouse to get their marriage license. - BEN FELDER/GAZETTE
  • Ben Felder/Gazette
  • Kenny Wright and BArry Bass wait in the hallway of the Oklahoma Count Courthouse to get their marriage license.

The couple sat on a bench in the hallway of the court clerk’s office, smiles on their faces and their hands clasped together. As they waited, Lauren Tidwell and Sara Yardbrough walked out of the office as Oklahoma County’s first legally married same-sex couple.

“It was unbelievable because I never thought I would get to marry the person I love in my home state,” Tidwell said.

The two texted each other when they heard the news earlier in the morning and both agreed that they needed to make it official after first becoming engaged Oct. 10.

“At the time I just proposed a ceremony,” Tidwell said. “Then a few month later when it started to become official I asked her if she really wanted to become married, and I said wait a minute, I just proposed to you twice.”

Oklahoma voters approved a statewide ban on same-sex marriage in 2004, a move that was immediately followed by a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. A state judge ruled against the ban in January, followed by the 10th Circuit’s decision to uphold the ban this summer. A stay was put in place by the court until it was determined what action, if any, the Supreme Court would take.

click to enlarge Lauren Tidwell and Sara Yardbrough were the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license on Oct. 6, 2014. - BEN FELDER/GAZETTE
  • Ben Felder/Gazette
  • Lauren Tidwell and Sara Yardbrough were the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license on Oct. 6, 2014.

With a decision by the nation's highest court not to review any same-sex marriage cases this year, the 10th Circuit lifted its stay.

Across the state in Tulsa, Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin, the two women at the center of the lawsuit challenging the state ban, received their marriage license in a Tulsa County Courthouse.

"We're no longer second-class citizens in our own state,” Baldwin said after the license was made official.

Oklahoma was not the only state impacted by the Supreme Court’s inaction as 10 other states are expected to see marriage equality in the coming days. That will tilt the nation towards a country where same-sex couples are offered equal marriage rights as 65 percent of all couples will soon live in a right to marry state.

Celebrated by marriage advocates and same-sex couples, some of the state’s leading critics of gay marriage were quick to denounce the situation.

Gov. Mary Fallin said the court decision “has been cast by the media as a victory for gay rights” but “what has been ignored, however, is the right of Oklahomans – and Americans in every state – to write their own laws and govern themselves as they see fit.”

Rep. James Lankford, Oklahoma City’s congressman, was also critical of the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the marriage case, despite the fact that many legal observers predicted the court would have ruled in favor of marriage equality.

“Every person should be respected and honored,” Lankford said. “But, marriage is a unique cultural relationship that has a long-standing tradition and societal meaning, which should not be redefined by the courts.”

However, the criticism of political and religious leaders wasn’t going to dampen the celebration of many who had fought for this day.

“To say that we are excited is an understatement,” said Scott Hamilton of the Cimarron Alliance in Oklahoma City. “For so many people this has been a long arduous fight. I remember those who are no longer with us who planted the seed for such a day.

“Marriage is the cornerstone of our society and we all became a little bit stronger today.”

 

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