Judge backs Denver County clerk over gay marriage licenses

Reuters

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - A Colorado judge who ruled last week that the state's ban on same-sex nuptials was unconstitutional refused on Monday to stop the Denver County clerk from giving out marriage licenses to gay couples, court records show.

Denver became the second county in the state to issue the permits to same-sex couples, just hours after another judge ruled on Thursday in favor of the county clerk in Boulder, who has issued more than 120 of them since late June.

As in the case of Boulder, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers had sought an injunction to stop Denver County clerk Debra Johnson from handing out the licenses. But on Monday, state court Judge C. Scott Crabtree denied the motion.

The latest twist in the saga for gay marriage supporters in Colorado began on June 25 when the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that neighboring Utah could not ban gay marriage, then stayed that decision pending Utah's appeal.

Despite Suthers' insistence that Colorado's ban on same-sex weddings remained in force, Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall began issuing licenses to couples who she said had waited long enough to marry the person they loved.

The attorney general's lawsuit was thrown out, a day after Crabtreee struck down Colorado's gay marriage ban, saying it violated constitutional rights.

It was just the latest of several decisions by state and federal judges who have knocked down state bans on same-sex nuptials, and then staying their rulings pending challenges to higher courts.

Suthers' office says "statewide uniformity" is needed fast, and on Monday it said it would appeal Crabtree's ruling on the state's ban from last Wednesday directly to Colorado's Supreme Court, rather than the state's Court of Appeals.

"We have sought to bring resolution to these issues as quickly as possible, and this is another important step in doing so," Suthers said in a statement.

After Denver followed Boulder last week and said it would begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, Pueblo County in the south of the state also began the practice.

When same-sex couples receive the permit they can choose to get married right away, without anyone else officiating.

Separately, lawyers for same-sex couples suing in federal court filed a motion on Friday which said that in light of the recent decisions, Suthers was fighting a losing a legal battle.

Mari Newman, an attorney for the couples, said the sky had not fallen in Boulder, Denver or Pueblo, despite the county clerks' actions.

"It is time for ... Suthers to quit standing in the way of marriage equality in Colorado," Newman said in a statement.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Walsh)

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