A federal judge in Denver declared Colorado’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional Wednesday and put his ruling on hold to give the state time to seek an appeal.
Tenth District Judge Raymond P. Moore’s ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed three weeks ago by six gay couples who asked the court for an injunction ordering that the state’s ban no longer be enforced.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican, and Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, had requested a stay prior to the ruling so the issue could eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court — though both agreed the state ban should be declared unconstitutional.
The couples filed the lawsuit after the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled against Utah’s same-sex marriage ban but put the decision on hold pending an appeal.
Moore said in his ruling that Colorado’s attorneys “have not met their burden” for a stay because they did not oppose the injunction. But he’s giving them until Aug. 25 to seek a stay from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver or the U.S. Supreme Court.
Shortly after the ruling, Suthers filed a notice of appeal to the 10th Circuit.
Moore said the U.S. Supreme Court has signaled that it may take up the constitutionality of gay-marriage bans, citing a decision last week granting a stay in the Utah case. The Supreme Court said state officials don’t have to recognize the marriages there until their appeal is heard.
“There is a fuse that has been lit that is burning across federal courts, and all of the district courts that have looked at the issue seem to be pointing in a single direction,” Moore said during the hearing. “But not withstanding that, it seems as if with wet fingers the Supreme Court has put its finger on that fuse and perhaps said, ‘Wait.'”
Gay couples applauded the ruling, but said they were still waiting for a final resolution.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said plaintiff Breanna Alexander. “But we’re still meeting opposition that feels even more unjust when it comes to frivolous appeals.”
Colorado voters banned gay marriage in 2006, though civil unions became legal in 2013.
The couples’ federal lawsuit alleged the state’s same-sex marriage ban violates due-process and equal-protection rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Although some of the couples in the lawsuit have civil unions in Colorado, the lawsuit called them unequal and an inadequate substitute to marriage.
Suthers’ office said the question of gay marriage should be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. Hickenlooper also said the legal process should play itself out, but he has reiterated his support for same-sex marriage.
After the ruling, Suthers said he was gratified that Moore issued a temporary stay. The attorney general said he expects the appeals court to continue the stay and believes the nation’s highest court will be the final authority in gay marriage cases.
Even though Colorado’s gay marriage ban is still in effect, clerks in Boulder, Denver, and Pueblo counties have issued marriage licenses to gay couples after several favorable court rulings. Denver and Pueblo counties have stopped because of a state Supreme Court order, and Suthers is trying to get Boulder to cease issuing licenses to gay couples.