OKLAHOMA CITY– The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma has announced that the four plaintiffs in the Bishop v. Oklahoma lawsuit–Mary Bishop, Sharon Baldwin, Susan Barton, and Gay Phillips–will receive the Angie Debo Civil Liberties Award for their long and potentially landmark fight against Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage. The reception will be held in the Bell Court Room at the University of Oklahoma Law School on Saturday, March 29, 2014.

“In the nearly ten years since this case was first filed, these plaintiffs have stood on the front lines in the fight to secure true equality for Oklahomans, and today their case stands to be a landmark that will be heralded for generations,” said Ryan Kiesel, Executive Director of the ACLU of Oklahoma.

Tulsa couple Mary Bishop and Sharon Baldwin filed the lawsuit with Susan Barton and Gay Phillips in November 2004, shortly after Oklahoma voters approved a referendum which created an amendment to the state’s constitution banning same-sex marriage. The plaintiffs argued that the ban violated the equal protection clause under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, because it excluded a certain group from a government benefit.

“The legal victory of these courageous and persistent litigants is happily also a victory for ethics and a more enlightened democratic politics, by which liberty and equality are better defined and advanced societally. The ACLU at its best, as here, recognizes the many moral struggles in which civil liberties and civil rights need our support. Our fight for freedoms is a unitary fight. We are proud to present this Angie Debo Civil Liberties Award to these honorees.” said Ed Sankowski, President of the ACLU of Oklahoma Board of Directors.

On January 14, 2014, after nearly a decade, Federal District Court Judge Terence Kern ruled in favor of the couples, stating: “Exclusion of just one class of citizens from receiving a marriage license based upon the perceived ‘threat’ they pose to the marital institution is, at bottom, an arbitrary exclusion based upon the majority’s disapproval of the defined class.”   Judge Kern continued “It is also insulting to same-sex couples, who are human beings capable of forming loving, committed, and enduring relationships.” Judge Kern’s decision was stayed and will not take effect immediately; the matter is currently under consideration by the Federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Most court observers anticipate that regardless of the outcome in the Tenth Circuit, the case will ultimately be determined by the United States Supreme Court.

According to James Nimmo, ACLU of Oklahoma Board Member, “These four women have demonstrated a public responsibility for righting the wrongs visited on them and others. They are known for their persistence in seeking legal remedy to cancel the discrimination directed at them as individuals. One could surely say that ‘Sure and steady wins the game’ is their motto.”

The award is named in honor of the writer, historian, and civil rights advocate Angie Debo, who relentlessly pursued justice in cooperation with the ACLU of Oklahoma during the late 1960’s and 1970’s. It is the highest award presented by the ACLU of Oklahoma and has been presented annually since 1971 for outstanding achievement in the fight for civil rights and civil liberties.

A reception honoring Mary Bishop, Sharon Baldwin, Susan Barton, and Gay Phillips will be held in the Bell Court Room at the University of Oklahoma Law School in Norman on March 29 at noon. The event is free and open to the public. Seating is limited. Please RSVP to Allie Shinn at ashinn@acluok.org or call 405.524.8511.