Okla. Marks Second Marriage Challenge at Appeals Court

A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver heard oral arguments today in the challenge to Oklahoma's constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

April 17 2014 5:41 PM ET

Plaintiffs Mary Bishop (left) and Sharon Baldwin

The same three-judge panel who heard arguments surrounding Utah's marriage equality ban last week considered a similar case regarding Oklahoma's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage today at the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. 

Today's arguments in Bishop v. Oklahoma focused primarily on whether or not the court had jurisdiction to rule on the merits of Oklahoma's ban and if the two lesbian couples who first filed suit 10 years ago have proper standing to challenge the law, according to The Denver Post's analysis. Listen to audio from today's case here

In January, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern ruled that Oklahoma's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution. Kern's ruling included a stay, placing a hold on his decision pending the state's appeal.

Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin, along with Susan Barton and Gay Phillips, first challenged the ban in a suit filed the same year the constitutional amendment was approved by voters, 2004, initially naming the state's governor and attorney general as defendants in their official capacities. 

But a district court determined that the plaintiffs incorrectly identified the defendants in the case and asked them to refile the suit, naming a county clerk who denied the couples a marriage license as the formal defendant, according to the Post. 

In the latest among a confusing set of contradictory rulings, Judge Kern determined in January that the couples should have sued the state itself and not the county clerk. The plaintiffs hope the forthcoming ruling from the 10th Circuit will provide some clarity, especially as several similar cases make their way through the federal courts. Most observers expect one or more of those pending challenges to reach the Supreme Court in the coming years. 

The decade-long trek to the federal appeals court was frustrating for the couples, they said.  

"They can't even decide who we are supposed to sue, let alone whether or not we should marry," Baldwin told the Post.

And regardless of how the court rules — which may not happen for several months — the plaintiffs are well aware that the fight for LGBT equality continues. 

"In Oklahoma you can still be fired from your job or evicted from your house for being gay," Baldwin said. "Marriage is not the final frontier."

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