Colorado Issues Marriage Certificates To Gay Couples — Even Though It's Still Technically Illegal

Shortly after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Utah’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional, a Colorado clerk began issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples in defiance of the state’s ban on marriage equality. County Clerk Hillary Hall of Boulder County acted almost immediately after Utah’s law was struck down, saying she “would be surprised if a judge in Colorado were willing to invalidate” the licenses after the fact. As of Thursday, at least 17 marriage licenses have been handed out.

However, the situation is complicated. The 10th Circuit ruling — which was the first time an appeals court ruled in favor of gay marriage — applied to six states, including Colorado. But ithasn’t actually gone into effect yet: The three-judge panel stayed the ruling until the appeals process plays out. As such, Colorado’s Republican Attorney General has declared the new marriage licenses “invalid.”

"(The) decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals was stayed by the Court and has not gone into effect even in Utah, let alone in Colorado," Attorney General John Suthers said. "Any marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples in Colorado before a final court resolution of the issue are invalid."

Hall didn’t exactly deny that, but expressed skepticism that the licenses would be overturned.

"Given the 10th Circuit's recent decision and the numerous other cases on this issue, I would be surprised if a judge in Colorado were willing to invalidate a marriage license simply because the parties to the marriage were the same sex,” she said in a statement.

There’s something familiar about this whole episode: In 1975, decades before the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of gay marriage, the county clerk of Boulder started issuing same-sex marriage certificates before being ordered to stop by the state Attorney General.

What’s unclear now is whether Suthers will actually take legal action to invalidate the marriage licenses. Should he do so, he’d likely be in for an uphill battle: The case will almost certainly make its way up to the Supreme Court, and it’s doubtful that any judge would rule on the validity of the marriage licenses before SCOTUS issues its decision.

Hall was not the only one to be emboldened by the 10th Circuit’s ruling: On Wednesday, officials in St. Louis, Missouri issued four marriage licenses to same-sex couples in a ceremony hosted by the mayor, even though Missouri, too, has a constitutional ban against gay marriage. The state’s Attorney General immediately asked a local judge for a temporary restraining order, but was denied.