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Denver clerk to deny gay marriage licenses, allowing suit to go forward

DENVER — After a false start of sorts, a group of same-sex couples are likely to move ahead and file a lawsuit challenging Colorado’s same-sex marriage ban.

Those plaintiffs were planning to file the suit on Tuesday, even sending out a press advisory Monday afternoon for a Tuesday morning press conference.

Two hours after that advisory went out, the press conference had been cancelled and the lawsuit itself was in limbo.  So what happened?

Sources told us that attorney John McHugh, who is handling the lawsuit, hadn’t conferred with the defendants, notably Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson, whose office denied a same-sex couple a marriage license last Friday, which was serving as grounds for the lawsuit.

McHugh, who has not returned a call seeking comment, wasn’t aware that Johnson, who was out of the office when a same-sex couple applied for a marriage license Friday, was herself open to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, which would have rendered the lawsuit pointless.

After FOX31 Denver’s report Monday night confirming that the lawsuit would challenge Amendment 43, the state’s gay marriage ban, a number of prominent LGBT activists cautioned McHugh and the lawsuit was put on hold as Johnson continued to weigh her options.

But on Tuesday, Johnson said that she’d made up her mind to deny marriage licenses for same-sex couples — some of whom are likely to return to her office this week to make additional requests that will serve as grounds for the lawsuit.

“It’s been very tough,” Johnson said. “I’ve been wrangling with it for 24 hours, but I am going to deny the license. I’m going to deny it with a lot of reservations. I’ll put it that way.

“I think it’s very unconstitutional that loving couples can’t get married,” she continued. “However, I think that this is Colorado law right now and I took an oath of office and I need to abide by that oath.”

In Johnson’s view, denying the request and allowing the suit to be filed against her office and the state, rather than issuing marriage licenses to gay couples and likely prompting a lawsuit against her from the state, will do more to advance the cause of equal rights for gay couples.

“I’ve come to the decision of not issuing the license for the purpose of furthering the cause,” she said. “I really believe that loving couples should have the ability to get married.”

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