Boulder Clerk Hall determined to move the needle on gay marriage in Colorado
CLERK Hillary Hall in Colorado’s progressive Boulder County has been issuing same-sex marriage licenses for nearly a week now, even though gay marriage is technically banned here, or would seem to be banned here. It’s a fact Hall and her couples are disputing on the ground — with witnesses and rings and vows. Hall has married 88 people so far. But it’s 9 a.m. Mountain Time and the doors of the clerk’s office have been open for an hour, so the number of gay-married couples in Boulder likely has grown.
Hall says what she’s doing isn’t about politics. “It’s about people who love each other, their families, their friends, our coworkers, and doing what’s right and just. And history will be on our side,” she told the Boulder Daily Camera yesterday afternoon.
Nevertheless, the personal is political, gay marriage is hotly political, and Hall is an elected officeholder. She has also never been shy about wading into politically charged issues and she shines when it comes time to speak before microphones and cameras. She comes off as a sort of extra-competent everywoman who speaks plainly and looks less like one of Boulder’s typical yoga-devotee triathlete moms and more like your now-adult high school friend from the midwest. It works for her.
Hall took on hard-charging high-profile Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler last year at the capitol in Denver when she testified eloquently in favor of an elections modernization bill that he strongly opposed. It was a Colorado chapter in the running national war over voter laws, vote suppression and voter fraud. It was a battle Hall’s side won. The bill passed and has transformed elections in the state.
Now Hall is taking on Republican Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who opposes gay marriage and has argued that states must enforce laws on the books banning gay marriage that have not been directly struck down, despite the fact that federal court rulings are piling up around the country that undermine the legitimacy of those laws. Suthers is determined to stop the Hillary Hall movement in Boulder before it spreads to other counties. He is threatening vague “legal action” — vague only because it seems to be developing as the hours pass. His solicitor general, Dan Domenico, on Tuesday directed Hall to cease issuing licenses and asked her to join the attorney general’s office in requesting the state supreme court to rule on the legality of the Boulder same-sex marriages.
The story is developing fast and Hall, whether she likes it or not or planned it or didn’t, is at the center of what is for now a small-bore Wendy Davis moment.
The media is crowding in to her office. She says she’s not going to stop issuing the licenses.
Hall was spurred to begin marrying gay couples in the wake of the June 25th federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found Utah’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional. The 10th Circuit covers Colorado, as well as Utah, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wyoming. The three-judge panel ruling in the Utah case never explicitly mentioned Colorado’s 2006 gay marriage ban.
But the Colorado ban is being challenged in what is now multiple lawsuits. It seems destined to land soon on the scrap heap of history but it has not yet been directly overturned. That would take a ruling from the state Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court, at least according to legal experts watching the cases.
But, as Hall points out, the 10th Circuit’s majority opinion in the Utah case, Kitchen v. Herbert, was a very strong ruling. It held that marriage was a constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right. Expecting an appeal from Utah’s attorney general, the judges stayed their pathbreaking opinion. Utah’s attorney general has signaled he plans to appeal.
The stay doesn’t matter, says Hall. No one has yet appealed. The ruling stands. “They said [marriage] was a fundamental right. How do you stay a fundamental right?” she asked reporters Tuesday.
A staffer at the Boulder County Clerk’s office just told the Independent that she doesn’t know whether any couples have come to the office for a license yet this morning. The office plans for today at least to send gay-marriage numbers to a media distribution list at noon and at the end of the day. “But,” she adds, “if couples come in, we’ll be issuing licenses.”
*Update: At end of day, Boulder County reported 9 total licenses issued to same-sex couples today, pushing grand total to 97. At noon, Boulder County had issued six same-sex marriage licenses: three in Boulder, two in Louisville and one in Longmont.
**Update: Boulder County Attorney Ben Pearlman has sent a letter to Colorado Solicitor General Ben Pearlman supporting Clerk Hall’s position that she must place priority on protecting the constitutional rights of individual Coloradans above her obligation to uphold Colorado law.
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