Colorado’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage took a one-two punch this week, after a district court judge found it to be unconstitutional and another allowed the Boulder County Clerk to continue issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
In the first case, Adams County District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree ruled on Wednesday that the state ban, approved by voters in 2006, “bears no rational relationship to any conceivable government interest” when ruling in favor of nine gay couples who sued to have it overturned.
As with judges in other states, Crabtree stayed his decision pending appeal. Similar decisions have been recently upheld, including one in Utah that was heard by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
The appellate decision was also stayed pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but immediately after the ruling, the county clerk in Boulder began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.
Hillary Hall, relying on legal advice from the county attorney, argued that the federal court’s ruling against Utah’s constitutional ban also nullified Colorado’s, even though the Adams County court had yet to rule.
Attorney General John Suthers warned Hall that he would take legal action if she didn’t stop issuing the licenses, a threat that Hall ignored. Suthers’ office sued Hall last week, but on Thursday, the court sided with Hall.
The court ruled that Suthers didn’t meet the burden of proof showing that Hall’s actions harmed either the state or the couples who were issued marriage licenses, according to the Denver Post.
“There is no tangible harm to the people of Colorado caused by Clerk Hall’s disobedience of state law and orders by the State,” Boulder District Judge Andrew Hartman said.
Despite that his decision allows Hall to continue issuing licenses, Hartman noted that Crabtree’s stay in the Adams County case means the constitutional ban remains the law of the land, although perhaps not for long.
“Even though this case provides a strong indication that the Colorado ban on same-sex marriages will ultimately fall, due to the stay pending possible appeal, the law is hanging on by a thread and the Court must presume it remains valid,” Hartman wrote.
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