A court ruling allowing Boulder County to issue same-sex marriage licenses in defiance of Colorado’s ban rippled across the state Friday.
Clerks in Denver and Pueblo counties also began handing out marriage licenses to gay couples and others may soon follow suit.
Although Colorado isn’t alone in challenging its constitutional ban on gay marriage — 16 other states have seen them overturned, but most have been stayed pending appeal to higher courts — it is openly ignoring a law that remains valid and on the books.
Colorado swerved off what has become a well-trod path to tossing the bans when the Boulder County Clerk began issuing the licenses after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a case in Utah finding that state’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional.
Boulder Clerk Hillary Hall argued that because the 10th Circuit has jurisdiction over Colorado, the ruling in the Utah case also nullified Colorado’s voter-approved constitutional amendment. And she said the stay on the decision only applied to Utah.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers sued Hall to stop the issuance of licenses, but a judge ruled in Hall’s favor on Thursday (RELATED: Judge: Colorado’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban ‘Hanging By A Thread’)
Just the day before, another judge in a different case ruled that the state’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional, and like other judges in other states, he stayed his decision pending an appeal to the high court.
Because of the stay, the constitutional ban remains in effect, but it’s being ignored — thanks to the decision in Hall’s case — by an increasing number of county clerks.
“No court has upheld the constitutionality of marriage bans for 23 consecutive rulings, at state or federal levels all over the nation,” said Pueblo County Clerk Bo Ortiz in a press release announcing his intention to follow Boulder’s lead. “That’s significant and can’t be ignored. Denying constitutional rights is an untenable position and I have to respect the Constitution, the courts and move forward.”
In a statement Thursday, Suthers warned the new rogue counties that his office would “act swiftly to prevent a legal patchwork quilt from forming,” but didn’t specify the consequences.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock issued a written statement supporting Denver County Clerk Debra Johnson for making marriage licenses available to gay couples and Gov. John Hickenlooper urged Suthers not to appeal the finding of unconstitutionality, but to wait for a Supreme Court Decision.
In its own statement, the Archdiocese of Denver vowed to fight to preserve the constitutional ban, saying that the court decision tossing it out “advances a misinterpretation of the institution of marriage in modern society.”
The Supreme Court is expected to take up the matter in a case that will have sweeping consequences one way or the other.
“For those following all the ins and outs, it’s a good civics lesson,” University of Colorado law professor Jennifer Hendricks told the Daily Camera. “And it’s very significant for the people who want to be married.”
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