District court rulings lead to issuance of same-sex marriage licenses in Boulder, Denver counties

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— The circumstances surrounding same sex marriage in Colorado were changing rapidly Thursday after Denver County Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson, reacting to a ruling by a Boulder District Court judge, announced at midday that she would immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

However, Routt County officials are not making preparations to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.

Chief Deputy County Clerk Tina Fry confirmed that the office has issued four civil union permits since April 2013, but no same-sex couples have come in seeking a marriage permit.

County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland, vacationing out of state Thursday, said she is concerned that issuing same-sex licenses as Johnson and Boulder Clerk Hillary Hall have done prior to a higher court ruling on Colorado’s ban on same-sex marriage, could cause confusion.

The concern on the part of some Colorado officials, including a judge who ruled this week that the state’s ban on gay marriages is unconstitutional, is that if couples are married prior to a change in state law, their license could become invalid.

“First of all, before I’d make any decision I’d go under advisement with the county attorney,” Weinland said. “I would probably wait for a Supreme Court decision. I haven’t talked to either (Johnson or Hall), so for me to make a judgement or assumption about what they’re acting on” would be premature. But “I feel like they’re creating a potential for chaos.”

Same-sex couples in Routt County may have yet to come forward to ask for a marriage license at the courthouse, but prominent wedding planner Lindsey Grannis said she is aware of two same-sex couples who will be married in ceremonies here this summer. Her company, One Fine Day, is not working with either couple, but she would welcome the business.

“I think anyone should be able to get married here,” Grannis said. “It would bring in a lot of tax dollars.”

The destination wedding business here is known to be substantial, but a spokesperson for the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association said the actual fiscal impact is not fully understood. Grannis said the valley actually has a shortage of venues for wedding parties arriving from out of town.

Steamboat Today published an Associated Press story Thursday describing how Adams County District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree, in deciding two lawsuits, had issued a ruling striking down Colorado’s gay marriage ban, finding that there was “no rational relationship between any legitimate governmental purpose and the marriage bans.”

However, he also invoked a stay on his own ruling after recognizing that the issue ultimately would be decided by a higher court. Failing to put his ruling on hold ultimately could result in confusion he reasoned.

The availability of same-sex marriage licenses began to open up in the Mountain West recently when a three-judge panel sitting on the 10th Circuit Court that oversees six states, including Colorado, ruled Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Hill, reacting to the 10th Circuit ruling, began to issue same-sex licenses in Boulder County, which resulted in Colorado Attorney General John Suthers asking a judge to issue a restraining order against her.

Another Colorado district court judge, Andrew Hartman, of Boulder, entered the fray Thursday when he rejected Suthers’ request for the restraining order against Hall, saying the the Attorney General’s Office had not convinced him that the Boulder clerk’s decision to issue the licenses would harm either the state or the couples involved.

Hall returned to issuing same-sex marriage licenses and Johnson followed suit.

Suthers, in turn, issued a news release in which he implied he would take a challenge of Hartman’s ruling to the Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court, if necessary. Suthers promised to take “swift action” to avoid the kind of confusion Crabtree expressed concern about.

“It is the view of the Attorney General’s Office that the uncertainty that has been created by these recent Colorado court rulings as to the propriety of county clerks issuing same-sex marriage licenses prior to final resolution of the issue, cries out for resolution by the state’s highest court,” Suthers was quoted in the release. "It is paramount that we have statewide uniformity on this issue and avoid the confusion caused by differing county-by-county interpretations of whether same-sex marriage is currently recognized. Therefore, we will act swiftly in an attempt to prevent a legal patchwork quilt from forming.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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