Colorado

Lawmakers urge removal of gay-marriage roadblocks

State Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, speaks to reporters about recent developments in court cases involving gay marriage at the Capitol on July 3. Steadman was joined by fellow Democratic gay lawmakers, including Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Commerce City and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino of Denver. Photo by Vic Vela
By Vic Vela
Posted

A group of gay state lawmakers on July 3 called on Colorado officials to "concede" that the state's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional and to avoid putting up any more legal barriers that delay "inevitable" same-sex nuptials.

That urging - and the state Attorney General's decision that same day to take legal action against a county clerk who has been issuing "invalid" gay marriage licenses - capped a flurry of activity surrounding gay-marriage court battles from last week, an issue that is expected to become even more eventful in the coming weeks.

The lawmakers, all Democrats, held a Capitol press conference to urge Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican Attorney General John Suthers to essentially get out of the way of legal battles over same-sex marriage that are consistently being won across the country by supporters of marriage equality.

"It's about to happen and now we're seeing the end game," said state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, who added that it is "inevitable" that same-sex marriage will become legal in Colorado, as it has in several other states.

The most recent victory for gay marriage supporters was a 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Denver last week that Utah could not prevent gays from getting married there.

The appeals court stayed its ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the issue. And since the 10th circuit court includes the state of Colorado, it means that the state's ban on gay marriage - which was supported by Colorado voters in 2006 - will remain in place, pending a Supreme Court decision.

However, that did not stop Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall from issuing same-sex marriage licenses almost immediately after the court's decision. And Boulder County has continued to issue those licenses in spite of threats of legal intervention on the part of the Attorney General's office.

Those threats culminated in a lawsuit that was filed by the AG's Office on July 3, which calls on Hall to stop issuing "invalid" marriage licenses.

"Regretfully, our office was forced to take action against Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall due to her refusal to follow state law," Suthers said through an emailed statement. "While we would prefer not to sue a government official, Ms. Hall's actions are creating a legal limbo for both the state and the couples whose relationships she wants to champion. That limbo could have tangible and unintended consequences."

A hearing was expected to be held in a Boulder courtroom on July 9.

Further showing that this issue moved at lighting-like speed last week, Suthers' decision to sue Boulder County came just one day after Suthers and Hickenlooper asked a federal court to issue an injunction declaring the state's gay marriage ban to be unconstitutional.

That move deals with a lawsuit that was filed by six couples in a Denver federal district court who are seeking to overturn the state's gay marriage ban.

However, they are asking for that injunction to be stayed, pending a Supreme Court outcome. The move suspends all trial court litigation on the matter.

Suthers is not a supporter of gay marriage. But he sees the reality before him - that all lower courts have ruled on the side of gay marriage supporters. So, Suthers does not see the point in continuing to drag the issue through the lower court process and using tax dollars to fight against something that is going to be decided by the highest court in the land anyway.

"The motion we filed yesterday seeks to create a cease fire in the battles over same-sex marriage in Colorado," Suthers said. "We created a path forward to efficiently and decisively resolve several ongoing legal proceedings,"

Steadman commended Suthers and Hickenlooper for filing the injunction. But he and other gay lawmakers would rather see the injunction filed without a stay.

"I think we will find that the sun will still rise in the east the next day; life will go on unchanged," Steadman said. "The only thing that will be different is that all families will have equal opportunity to protect themselves and their property and their children, just like everybody else."

Hickenlooper, who supports gay marriage, acknowledged to reporters later that same day that "there's a great deal of frustration out there" on the part of same-sex couples who are seeking to marry.

However, the governor said that the court system has a process that needs to be followed.

"I'm not a lawyer, but as I understand the court of law, when the Court of Appeals issues a stay for their own decision to be judged by a higher court, legally you don't have that right to go around it," he said.

But Steadman said that while the issue remains up in the air, some couples might be running out of time to see their dreams of marriage become a reality.

Steadman's own partner died of cancer prior to Colorado's legalization of civil unions last year - a law that Steadman was instrumental in creating.

"I can speak from personal experience," Steadman said. "Not everyone can afford to wait."