Colorado, Oregon attorneys general strike opposite positions toward gay marriage suits
Colorado Republican Attorney General John Suthers said he was committed to defending the state’s ban on gay marriage in the face of a lawsuit filed yesterday challenging its constitutionality. Today comes news that Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has joined with an increasing number of attorneys general across the country and taken the opposite tack: She announced Thursday that she will not defend the state’s ban on gay marriage in a suit already well underway there.
“The State “will not defend the Oregon ban on same-sex marriage in this litigation,” she wrote in a brief submitted to the U.S. district court. “Rather, they will take the position in their summary judgment briefing that the ban cannot withstand a federal constitutional challenge under any standard of review.”
Oregon voters passed a ban on gay marriage in 2004. Colorado voters passed the state ban in 2006. Colorado’s Amendment 43 defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Suthers said he felt obliged to defend the amendment.
“It is the job of the Attorney General’s Office to defend our state laws, and we will defend against this new lawsuit as we would any other,” he said.
Suthers has anticipated a lawsuit challenging the ban for some time. In an opinion piece published at the beginning of the month in the Washington Post, he laid out his rationale for defending the ban.
“I fear that refusing to defend unpopular or politically distasteful laws will ultimately weaken the legal and moral authority that attorneys general have earned and depend on,” he wrote. “We will become viewed as simply one more player in a political system rather than as legal authorities in a legal system. ”
Nine same-sex couples filed suit Wednesday in Denver. The suit names Denver Clerk Debra Johnson and Governor Hickenlooper, both Democrats who support gay rights, including the right to marry. Indeed, Johnson was pained to deny the couples marriage licenses but ultimately agreed to in order to facilitate the lawsuit and see the ban lifted statewide.
“I believe all adults should be able to marry the person they love regardless of sexual orientation; however, as an elected official, under oath I am sworn to uphold the law as written, even when those laws are in direct conflict with my personal beliefs,” she said in a release.
Kris Miccio, professor of criminal law at the University of Denver, is one of the plaintiffs in the Colorado case. Talking in December about gay-marriage legal battles in Utah, Oklahoma and New Mexico, she told the Colorado Independent she was married to her partner in New York last year and that the experience underlined the injustice and indefensibility of Colorado’s law.
“I knew we were going to sue. The minute we stepped off the plane from New York, our marriage was devalued into a civil union,” she said. “These prohibitions [on marriage] violate fundamental rights — those rights that should never stop at state borders. I think that much has become very clear to the public… We’re a mobile society.
She took aim at Suthers, specifically.
“My advice to the Colorado attorney general when it comes to marriage cases is: Don’t defend the indefensible and waste taxpayers’ money. Judges, justices, attorneys general — their opinions are evolving, and they should be. They’re looking at the world around them. We have 18 states now where gay marriage is legal,” she said.
“It would be nice if we filed and the attorney general said ‘We’re not going to take this up and defend against it. [Marriage] is a fundamental right.’
[ Image: John Suthers ]
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