Same sex couples are now able to receive marriage licenses in most counties across the state of Oklahoma following the United States Supreme Court's decision Monday (Oct. 6) to not hear arguments in five different federal cases in which lower federal court judges found state bans on gay marriage to be unconstitutional.
In the Fort Smith region, Sequoyah and LeFlore County court clerks confirmed Tuesday (Oct. 7) they would issue licenses to same sex couples seeking to be married. Just west of Northwest Arkansas, the clerk in Delaware County was set to issue licenses, and the clerk in Delaware County was not certain of how the county was planning to handle the change.
Sam McCarter, Adair County Court Clerk, had not yet talked to the county’s legal counsel but said he believed the county would soon issue licenses for same sex marriages.
"From everything I've seen, I don't see how we can refuse (to issue a same sex marriage license). We've had people call, but no one has come in. Other court clerks are offering (to issue licenses), so again I don't see how I can refuse,” McCarter said.
Delaware County Court Clerk Carolyne Weaver said they were prepared to issue licenses and began issuing them Tuesday (Oct. 7).
"We changed forms like Sept. 30. They were getting them ready just in case it happened,” she said.
Sequoyah County Court Clerk Vicki Beaty said the county relied on a legal opinion from the county's district attorney following the inaction by the Supreme Court, which effectively removed a stay on a federal judge in Tulsa's opinion earlier this year that ruled Oklahoma's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.
"Our district attorney advised us on the Supreme Court decision and that's what we're doing, following the law," Beaty said of her offices move to begin issuing licenses to same sex couples.
Even though Beaty's office plans to issue licenses, forms must first be redesigned to comply with the law, she added.
"Basically, our forms are not complete for us to use yet. Until they get all the bugs worked out with our computers on the new forms, that's what we're waiting on. … It's changing it from man and woman and now they are naming it first applicant and second applicant."
Beaty did not provide a timeline of when the new forms would be ready or when computer systems would be updated to be gender neutral with regard to marriage licenses. With the forms and computer systems not yet updated, no same sex licenses have yet been issued in Sequoyah County.
In LeFlore County, Court Clerk Melba Hall said an opinion from the county's district attorney arrived late Monday and meant the county did not necessarily have an answer for individuals who inquired about whether they could obtain a marriage license for themselves and a same sex partner.
"They (callers) were the ones that first alerted us to the decision that came down. We've had about 15-20 calls and three or four couples that have come in prior to us having the forms revised," she said, adding that gender neutral forms had been available since lunch Tuesday.
"I expect to issue our first (same sex marriage license) by closing time," Hall added.
Gov. Mary Fallin, R-Okla., made clear in a statement that she was not pleased with the Supreme Court's inaction which basically cleared the way for marriage equality in Oklahoma.
"The people of Oklahoma have the right to determine how marriage is defined. In 2004, Oklahomans exercised that right, voting by a margin of 3-1 to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman," she said. "The will of the people has now been overridden by unelected federal justices, accountable to no one. That is both undemocratic and a violation of states’ rights. Rather than allowing states to make their own policies that reflect the values and views of their residents, federal judges have inserted themselves into a state issue to pursue their own agendas."
She said Oklahoma voters had their rights "trampled by an arrogant, out-of -control federal government that wants to substitute Oklahoma values with Washington, D.C. values.”
While the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the cases from Oklahoma and four other states has opened the door to gay marriage in those states, the ruling had little impact in other states where gay marriage has been ruled unconstitutional by state or local courts, including in Oklahoma's eastern neighbor of Arkansas.
In May, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled that Arkansas' ban on gay marriage – approved by nearly 75% of voters in 2004 – was unconstitutional. Licenses were issued briefly in some counties across the state, but a stay was eventually issued halting same sex marriages in Arkansas while the case goes through the appeals process.
Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based gay advocacy organization, said the inaction by the Supreme Court left same sex couples in states like Arkansas in limbo.
“Any time same-sex couples are extended marriage equality is something to celebrate, and today is a joyous day for thousands across America who will immediately feel the impact of today’s Supreme Court action," said HRC Arkansas Director Kendra R. Johnson. "But this news is an unfortunate reminder that LGBT Arkansans still lack basic legal protections against discrimination, and cannot legally marry the person they love in the place they call home.”