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Gazette Premium Content State's top court halts Denver gay marriages

By Jordan Steffen The Denver Post - Updated: July 19, 2014 at 11:09 am

DENVER - The Colorado Supreme Court on Friday ordered Denver to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but stopped short of blocking other clerks already issuing the licenses.

Denver immediately stopped issuing licenses, but clerks in Boulder and Pueblo said they would continue.

In a separate development, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday issued an order that prevents gay marriages from going forward in Utah for now. A previous stay issued by the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had been set to expire Monday morning.

The 10th Circuit on June 25 ruled Utah's ban unconstitutional, prompting the clerk and recorder in Boulder to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Clerks in Denver and Pueblo followed suit after subsequent rulings in Adams and Boulder counties.

The same three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday also struck down Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage on a 2-1 vote.

The order by Colorado's high court follows an emergency request filed Monday by Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, asking the Supreme Court to order all county clerks to stop issuing gay marriage licenses. The order also imposes a stay preventing the Adams County clerk - which was also named in the case - from issuing such licenses.

The Adams County clerk had not begun issuing the licenses.

El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne William has said that the county will not issuing licenses as long as same-sex marriages remain illegal in the state.

Charles Irwin, Executive Director of Colorado Springs Pride, said Friday that the ban in Colorado is a civil-rights violation.

"Colorado needs to stop wasting taxpayer money and stop defending a law that has already been shown to be unconstitutional," Irwin said. "You are denying rights for LGBT citizens. Colorado is ready for marriage equality."

Clerks in Boulder and Pueblo, whose clerks are currently issuing same-sex marriage licenses, are not affected by the ruling and said they would continue issuing licenses to gay couples. So far, Boulder has issued 156 marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The state 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.

A statement by Suthers' office welcomed Friday's ruling.

"We are pleased the Colorado Supreme Court has begun to restore order to the process of resolving this difficult issue," the statement said. "While we await a final determination of the constitutional question, the Court recognizes that the current laws should be enforced."

Suthers' statement noted that the order affects only Denver and Adams counties, but it expressed hope that other county clerks would stop issuing marriage licenses "without requiring more wasteful litigation."

Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert "Bo" Ortiz said via Twitter that he is reviewing the stay. His office has been handing out marriage license to gay couples since July 11 - including 25 on the first day.

The Denver Clerk's office has issued 108 same-sex marriage licenses since July 10. Denver County Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson said she was disappointed by Friday's order.

"There are some things we do for ourselves, but there are things, especially as an elected official, that must be done for others," Johnson said in a statement. "One day, I hope every Coloradan will experience marriage fully, equally, and without prejudice."

The Supreme Court's order did not address the constitutionality of Colorado's ban on gay marriages, or the validity of the licenses already issued.

Adams County District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree on July 9 ruled the state's voter-approved ban unconstitutional, but he immediately stayed his ruling.

A request to expedite the attorney general's appeal of Crabtree's ruling was also denied, said Rob McCallum, spokesman for the Colorado Judicial Branch.

Ralph Ogden, who represents one of the nine couples in the original Adams County lawsuit, filed a request with the state Supreme Court to expedite Suthers' appeal of Crabtree's ruling. The court denied that request.

"I'm disappointed the court didn't expedite the appeal," Ogden said. "They could have granted the request and it could have resolved a lot of uncertainty in Colorado."

Without an expedited briefing schedule, the Supreme Court will likely not hear arguments in the case until next year. The earliest a decision will be released will likely be early spring, Ogden said.


Gazette reporters Carol McGraw and Stephen Hobbs contributed to this story

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