Colo. Supreme Court orders Denver County stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses

DENVER — The Colorado Supreme Court ordered the Denver County Clerk and Recorder to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Friday.

The court, however, did not include Boulder or Pueblo counties in its ruling.

The decision came after Attorney General John Suthers asked the Supreme Court to make a decision on a lawsuit by several same-sex couples in both Denver and Adams counties claiming the state’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.

The decision complicates the same-sex marriage debate in Colorado, which has seen a series of rulings by both federal and state courts on different cases and individual clerk and recorders interpreting rulings differently.

“This just shows that Suthers is creating further chaos,” said Mari Newman, an attorney for six Colorado couples waiting on a federal ruling on the legality of same-sex marriage bans.

The legal battle heated up earlier last month when the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that a Utah law banning same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The court issued a stay on its ruling citing a pending appeal.

However, Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall decided the ruling was enough for her to start giving marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

Suthers challenged Hall in Boulder District Court and lost. Shortly after that decision was handed down, the Denver Clerk and Recorder, Deborah Johnson, allowed marriage licenses to same-sex couples as did the clerk and recorder in Pueblo County.

So far just over 100 marriage licenses have been given to same-sex couples in Denver County.

On July 2, a judge in Adams County ruled that Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause.  Suthers appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court, leading to Friday’s decision, which specifically mentions Adams and Denver counties, but not Boulder and Pueblo.

The order does not rule on the constitutionality of the ban.  That part of the case is still being decided.

The Supreme Court also declined to take up a request by five other county clerks seeking direction on whether to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Suthers released a statement saying “the Colorado Supreme Court has begun to restore order to the process of resolving this difficult issue.”

“The order directly applies only to the clerks in Denver and Adams Counties, because they are involved in the case before the Supreme Court, but the message should be clear enough.  We assume that all the state’s clerks will heed the Supreme Court’s direction without requiring more wasteful litigation,” Suthers said.

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