Federal appeals court strikes down Oklahoma’s gay-marriage ban

July 18

As expected, in a case called Bishop v. Smith, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals today struck down Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage as a violation of the fundamental right to marry. The decision follows the appellate panel’s own ruling invalidating Utah’s ban on June 25 in Kitchen v. Herbert. The decision adds nothing on the merits to the earlier Utah decision. The case is notable because it was filed ten years ago, making it the oldest active same-sex marriage litigation in the country.

The same judge, the George H.W. Bush-appointed Paul Kelly, dissented from both decisions. Judge Kelly is so far the only jurist in state or federal court since United States v. Windsor to reject a claim for same-sex marriage.

There is also a lengthy concurring opinion by Judge Jerome Holmes, nominated by George W. Bush in 2006, explaining why he did not think the Oklahoma ban reflected impermissible animus, although it did violate the plaintiffs’ fundamental right to marry. For a general discussion of animus analysis in the wake of Windsor, see my article on the issue in the Supreme Court Review posted here.

Just yesterday, it should be noted, a Florida state court judge  held the state’s marriage limitation unconstitutional on the grounds that it was rooted in animus. In an especially surprising rationale, the Republican-appointed judge, Luis Garcia, concluded there was animus in the law based largely on anti-gay statements made in an amicus brief filed by religious-conservative groups in opposition to summary judgment. Whatever other reasons there may be to find animus in state bans on same-sex marriage, this is not a terribly persuasive one.

Dale Carpenter is the Distinguished University Teaching Professor and Earl R. Larson Professor of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law at the University of Minnesota Law School. He teaches and writes in the areas of constitutional law; the freedoms of speech, association, and religion; and sexual orientation and the law.
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Stewart Baker · July 18