An Oklahoma trial court that granted a "divorce" after a same-sex duo and a lawyer apparently conspired to conceal the genders of the couple rightly canceled the decree when it discovered the facts, according to the state Supreme Court.
"Disclosure that the purported marriage was between two women was not made, and it was not until contacted by the local paper that the trial court discovered this information.... The court has power to vacate when the successful party acted improperly to obtain the decree or if there was irregularity in obtaining the decree. Such actions are shown in the facts in the present matter," the high court ruled.
The situation involved "C. O'Darling" and "S. O'Darling," who presented their case to Judge C. Michael Zacharias in Tulsa County District Court. The judge was told the couple "were purportedly married in Toronto, Canada on Dec. 16, 2002. Appellant filed her Petition for Dissolution of Marriage on July 18, 2006, in Tulsa County. The Petition and Summons were properly served on Appellee on July 25, 2006. The Appellee failed to file a response," the court explained.
"On Nov. 13, 2006, Appellant appeared with her attorney before the trial court judge. … Appellant informed the trial court that she and the Appellee were married in Canada. The fact that the marriage was between two women was not mentioned at this hearing … The notary's signature block on the waiver referred to the signor as he/she and the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage referred to the Petitioner as 'him.' The trial court granted the dissolution of marriage," court records reveal.
The next day, the judge was contacted by a reporter from the Tulsa World concerning reports of a "divorce" granted to two women.
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"The trial court confirmed this by contacting the office of the plaintiff's attorney. On Nov. 20, 2006, the trial court entered a Minute Order vacating the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage and dismissing the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage," the court said.
That decision was challenged by one of the women who alleged "she was denied the right of due process… She alleges that the trial court abused its discretion and violated her basic fundamental due process rights."
Nonsense, the high court concluded.
"The court has power to vacate when the successful party acted improperly to obtain the decree or if there was irregularity in obtaining the decree," the ruling said. "Such actions are shown in the facts in the present matter."
Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case on behalf of then-Oklahoma Speaker of the House Lance Cargill and their submission argued the state cannot grant a divorce to two people when the state does not even recognize them as married.
"The opponents of marriage aren't merely trying to redefine marriage; they're trying to eliminate marriage. Recognizing a same-sex 'divorce' would mean recognizing a 'marriage' that doesn’t exist under an Oklahoma law that voters passed by a margin of more than 3-to-1," said ADF Senior Legal Counsel Austin R. Nimocks. "The high court was right to determine that the lower court acted within its authority when it vacated the divorce decree it erroneously issued because it didn’t know the parties involved were of the same sex."
During the 2004 election, Oklahoma was one of several states in which voters adopted constitutional amendments protecting marriage as being between only one man and one woman.
The state constitution now provides that same-sex "marriages" from other states are not recognized as valid and binding in Oklahoma.
Nimocks said the case was one of activists trying to impose their will on the people of a state.
"By demanding that the court dissolve this counterfeit ‘marriage,’ these women are telling the court to ignore the laws of Oklahoma," he said.
The state Supreme Court said the only mistake that must be corrected is that the trial court didn't give the case participants "personal notice" before dismissing the action.
"We instruct the trial court to conduct a hearing, after notice is given to the parties," the ruling said.
But it also included a warning to the case participants.
"In the present matter, Appellant was in attendance at the purported divorce hearing. Neither Appellant nor her counsel, acting as an officer of the court, gave notice to the bench that the purported marriage was one between two women… [Court rules state] 'A lawyer shall not knowingly: (2) fail to disclose to the tribunal legal authority in the controlling jurisdiction known to the lawyer to be directly adverse to the position of the client and not disclosed by opposing counsel; or (3) offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false.'"