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Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Oklahoma


2004 to 2014: A decade-long court battle for
marriage equality, ending on 2014-OCT-06:

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Contrasting quotations:

bullet "If marriage means everything, it means absolutely nothing." Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family.

bullet "A loving man and woman in a committed relationship can marry. Dogs, no matter what their relationship, are not allowed to marry. How should society treat gays and lesbians in committed relationships? As dogs or as humans?" A posting to an Internet mailing list; used by permission of the author.

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Summary of events from 2004 to 2014:

On election day in 2004-NOV, "Question 711," was overwhelmingly passed by the voters with a vote of 76% to 24%. It amended the Oklahoma Constitution to:

  • Ban same-sex marriage (SSM) within Oklahoma, and

  • Ban the recognition in Olkahoma of legal SSMs solemnized in other states.

In addition, it had a unique provision which criminalized the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It stated:

"Any person knowingly issuing a marriage license in violation of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor."

Like many other amendments passed in other states on that day, it was a stealth amendment. It was promoted as a simple ban of same-sex marriage. However, in reality, it prohibited same-sex marriages, civil unions, domestic partnerships, and any other form of recognition of loving, committed same-sex relationships. Such couples were recognized only as "legal strangers" -- as mere roommates without protections for themselves and their for children.

We suspect that a major factor causing such an overwhelming, 3 to 1, support for the amendment was the widespread belief at the time that homosexuality is a personal choice. By preventing state from recognzing same-sex couples' relationships, many voters believed that the amendment would cause fewer adults to choose homosexuality. Since that time, an increasing percentage of voters have concluded that homosexual orientation is not chosen and changeable; it is discovered and fixed.

Within days after the results were certified, two Oklahoma same-sex couples launched a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma. It was called Bishop v. Oklahoma (later Bishop v. Smith). Their goal was to have the amendment declared unconstitutional and to achieve marriage equality in Oklahoma/ Then, all loving, committed couples -- both same-sex and opposite-sex -- who had reached the minimum age requirements and were not too closely related, could marry. It also attempted to have parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) also declared unconstitutional, particularly the clause that allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages solemnized elsewhere.

A little over nine years later, Judge Terence Kern of the federal District Court issued its ruling, declaring the Question 711 amendment unconstitutional for the usual reasons seen in many similar cases in other states, it:

"... violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. ... [that protection] is at the very heart of our legal system. and central to our consent to be governed. It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions. Therefore, the majority view in Oklahoma must give way to individual constitutional rights." 1

Responses to the ruling were predictable:

  • The plaintiffs and their lawyers were overjoyed.

  • Toby Jenkins, the executive director of Oklahomans for Equality -- a LGBT support group -- organized a party.

  • Religious and social conservatives were outraged. They believe that any constitutional amendment to the state constitution that was passed by the voters is binding, even if it does violate the U.S. Constitution. This is an unusual belief, shared only by some religious and social conservatives.

Judge Kern issued a stay of his ruling so that same-sex couples would not be able to marry until at least the Court of Appeals had ruled in the case. He did not rule about the DOMA law. That had already been addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court during mid-2013 in the case Windsor v. United States.

On 2014-JAN-14, Tulsa County Clerk and defendant, Sally Howe Smith, filed an appeal of Judge Kern's ruling with the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. She received legal support from Alliance Defending Freedom -- a conservative Christian legal defense group, and from the Tulsa County District Attorney's Office.

The Court heard oral arguments in the case starting 2014-APR-14.

On 2014-JUL-18, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the changes created in the state Constitution by Question 711 were unconstitutional. The ban was void and unenforceable. The ruling was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As in many other states recently, a chasm has opened up between religious, political, and constitutional conservatives and liberals in the U.S.:

  • Many conservatives believe in the principle that the United States is a pure democracy. That is, any statutes or constitutional amendments passed by a majority of voters become the supreme law of the land. Thus, Question 711 which bans SSM trumps the due process and equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

  • Many liberals believe in the principle that the United States is a constitutional democracy. That is, the supreme law of the land is defined by the U.S. Constitution, and that any federal statute, state statute, or clause in a state Constitution is unconstitutional if it violates the various states to be unconstitutional.

Unfortunately, no significant effort is being made to resolve this difference of opinion through dialogue. Conservatives and liberals seem to prefer throwing verbal rocks at each other, rather than seeking a consensus. More details.

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2014-OCT-06: A surprise development:

Oklahoma's appeal of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court, along with appeals from four other states (IN, VA, UT, WI). Marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in Oklahoma starting on OCT-06, and couples began to marry. This decision by the Supreme Court subsequently brought same-sex marriage to six additional states: (CO, KS, NC, SC,WV,WY). More details.

This decision will bring same-sex marriage to 11 more states to make a total of 30 states and the District of Columbia with marriage equality. 60% of Americans will live in locations where same-sex couples can marry.

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Topics covered in this section:

  • Part 1: 2004 to 2014: Amendment to the state Constitution bans SSM. A 9 year court battle in federal court ends in a ruling by District Court.

  • Part 2: 2014: The District Court's ruling (Cont'd). Future impact. Reactions to the court ruling, pro and con.

  • Part 3: 2014 JAN: More reactions to court ruling. Polling data. What is the core conflict?

  • Part 4: 2014-APR: Webmaster's comments. Case is appealed to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

  • Part 5: 2014-APR to JUL: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals holds hearings, issues its ruling, and stays its ruling.

  • Part 6: 2014-JUL to 2015-JAN: The U.S. Supreme Court rejects the appeal, thus legalizing same-sex marriage in Oklahoma. Prominent "Ex-gay" leader marries same-sex partner. Three anti-gay bills file in OK Legislature.

  • Part 7: 2015-JAN: Three anti-gay bills are filed in the Oklahoma Legislature

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Oklahoma: Victory for Marriage Equality," The Rainbow Times, 2014-JAN-15, at:
  2. "Judge rules in favor of Tulsa World lesbians," Tulsa Beacon, 2014-JAN-23, at:

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Site navigation: Home > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Menu > Oklahoma > here

Copyright 2014 & 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2014-JAN-22
Latest update: 2015-JAN-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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