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Former Tulsa County Clerk Sally Howe Smith dies

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Posted at 9:43 AM, Apr 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-05 16:58:03-04

TULSA — One of the women at the center of the gay marriage debate here in Oklahoma has died.

Howe Smith had served as the county clerk for nearly 25 years when she retired in 2016.

In a press release, Tulsa County Courthouse officials acknowledged Howe Smith's death.

"It is with heavy hearts that we bid farewell to a former boss, colleague, and friend, Sally Howe Smith," the press release said. "Sally served the Tulsa County Court Clerk Office and the citizens of Tulsa County for 45 years, 24 of those years she served in an elected official capacity, as the court clerk. Sally served the office with distinction and class. She saw many changes in her time as court clerk including the transition from paper to computerization. Sally was one to not worry about convention or conformity if she believed a path to be right. We lost a leader and a friend. She will be missed."

As the county clerk, Howe Smith was tasked with carrying out the law at the time, which meant denying marriage licenses to gay couples, including Sharon Bishop-Baldwin and her partner.

Bishop-Baldwin helped lead the charge on overturning the same-sex marriage ban in Oklahoma. She and others even named Howe Smith as the defendant in their federal lawsuit.

Despite that, Bishop-Baldwin says Howe Smith was far more supportive of gay rights than most realized. Even in denying the license, the county clerk did so in a kind and sympathetic way, Bishop-Baldwin said in a Facebook post.

After their court victory, the women sent flowers to county staff to show there were no hard feelings.

Bishop-Baldwin says Howe Smith returned the gesture with "the nicest note."

Howe Smith was 66. Services are pending.

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