DENVER — The Democratic candidate for Colorado attorney general says the state's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage violates the constitutional rights of gay couples and that the law shouldn't be defended.
Don Quick made the comments Tuesday morning, putting the issue into the spotlight in the state's attorney general race months before voters head to the polls. Quick, the former Adams County district attorney and former deputy state attorney general, emphasized that those positions have a responsibility to defend state laws regardless of whether the officeholder agrees with them.
"But in extraordinary circumstances, extraordinary circumstances, when a Colorado law intentionally violates fundamental rights of its citizens, it's the attorney general's job to step up and stop that law," Quick said.
He said that if a law is unconstitutional, "the attorney general has an obligation to say so," and he urged current Republican Attorney General John Suthers to stop defending Colorado's constitutional ban on gay marriage, which voters passed in 2006.
The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule whether state bans on gay marriage are unconstitutional. However, last summer the Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Suthers, who is term limited, joined nine states that filed arguments in support of Utah's gay-marriage ban. The case is pending in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Suthers said in an editorial published this month in The Washington Post that attorneys general "are elected or appointed to defend the laws, not to undermine them."
Republican candidates Rep. Mark Waller and Cynthia Coffman, Suthers' chief deputy, say the attorney general's office should defend Colorado's ban, like it defends other laws, unless they're ruled unconstitutional.
"You don't get to get pick and choose what laws you defend," Waller said. He said that if Colorado's gay marriage ban is "deemed to be unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court of America, I don't see how you could possibly defend it."
However, he said, without such a ruling, Colorado's law is "constitutional and you have an obligation to defend it."
Coffman said she looks at the issue of gay marriage in the context what she sees as the role of the attorney general.
"To me, it's about that basic principle of what the attorney general is supposed to do — to defend the law that the people want, not the law that the attorney general wants," she said.
She said if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a state law, then the duty of the attorney general is to follow that precedent. But unless that happens, she said it's not the job of the attorney general "to 'veto' laws by refusing to defend them."
The election for attorney general is in November, with a Republican primary in June.
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