Sunday, October 6th, marked the five year anniversary of marriage equality in Oklahoma. After a decade of litigation, Bishop v. United States, the landmark civil rights case that overturned Oklahoma’s discriminatory ban on same-sex marriage, finally made its way through the appeals process, Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin were granted a marriage license, and couples across the state of Oklahoma were granted the right to marry.
This was an incredible milestone in a longstanding fight for Oklahoma’s LGBTQ community. For decades, same-sex couples in Oklahoma had been making life long commitments to one another, but the state refused to recognize and protect these commitments. In fact, just ten years prior to this historic day, the voters of Oklahoma overwhelmingly adopted a measure that constitutionally denied marriage equality. It took years. It took perseverance. It took brave families and individuals standing strong in the face of adversity. But that ban on equal love was overturned. Justice prevailed and LGBTQ Oklahomans secured this crucial victory bringing our community one step closer to equal protection under the law.
I remember that day well. I sat in my office that morning maniacally refreshing the page until the news was confirmed. I cried tears of gratitude, of relief. I mourned for the families that never got to experience a moment like this. I rejoiced for the queer people in every corner of this state who spent that day feeling for the first time that maybe their dreams could be as valuable as those of their peers. I cried for all the years I spent believing this right would never be granted to me. I cried for all of my queer family who spent their lives believing we would never get to this point. And that night, I joined LGBTQ Oklahomans and allies from all walks of life to witness some of the first same-sex marriages in the state of Oklahoma.
The following year, in an instantaneously infamous decision, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that marriage equality would be the law of the land. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy declared:
"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."
The Constitution does indeed grant us that right. And at Freedom Oklahoma, with our partners at the ACLU of Oklahoma, we know we have more work to do to achieve that promise. Today, with the most hostile administration to LGBTQ rights inhabiting the White House, no federal or statewide protections against employment discrimination, housing discrimination, or discrimination in businesses, we are far from reaching the equal dignity in the eyes of the law of which the court has spoken.
Our transgender communities are denied the right to serve openly in the military. There are no protections for transgender youth in our schools. Gay Americans remain disproportionately affected by HIV, by poverty, are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and dramatically underrepresented in elected government. Across this nation and here in Oklahoma, our opponents are working diligently to pervert the basic freedoms of the First Amendment and weaponizing religion as a tool of discrimination. Our youth are struggling to fit in in our schools our communities of color are under attack from police and from ICE, our dream of lived equality is far from realized.
We have much to do. But we have this historic victory and so many others. And through these monumental wins, we have a roadmap for change. This year, we celebrate five years of marriage equality in Oklahoma and 50 years of the movement the Stonewall riots ignited. We honor the heroes who pioneered previously unimaginable change over the past fifty years. And we honor their legacy by advancing the movement they built for us.
We hope you’ll join us in celebrating this historic victory and our many achievements of the past 50 years at Freedom Oklahoma’s Unity Gala on October 25th, 2019. It is through community that we will build our future. Join us. We have so much to celebrate and so much work left to do.