[dropcap]D[/dropcap]ENVER Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson was in a meeting when the news hit: she could start issuing same-sex marriage licenses now, today.
A judge had declared that the state could not prevent Boulder Clerk Hillary Hall’s civil disobedience — she’s issued more than 100 same-sex marriage licenses even though there’s a stay on the federal case that found the state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. Johnson, the first out-LGBTQ clerk in Colorado history, could now start issuing licenses to any loving couple that walked through her door.
“It doesn’t feel like history, it just feels like something we should be doing. It’s equality,” said Johnson, who has for months been involved in a state case which yesterday resulted in a second scrapping of the Colorado same-sex marriage ban.
In the lull before the storm of wedding bells, reporters filled Johnson’s office, jumping each time the door opened. Many of Johnson’s staff also gathered at the entry, as ready as Johnson to see history made there.
“I’m just so thankful that we can finally administer this fundamental right,” said William Porter, who works media relations at the office.
Samantha Getman, 33, and Victoria Quintana, 23, have been together for two years and have been planning a civil union ceremony to take place in a month. But they dropped everything when they heard the news and headed down to Johnson’s office where they became the first same-sex couple in Denver to receive a marriage license.
“We thought we should get down here, see if it’s real,” said Getman, arm around Quintana and license in hand. “We wanted to come down and get it before somebody started taking it away from us again.”
Indeed the office was issuing disclaimers to the couples as they flowed in, warning them that the federal case overturning same-sex marriage bans in states like Colorado is still in the works. In fact, it’s been appealed directly to the United States Supreme Court. However, Johnson’s lawyers advised her that she could go ahead and start issuing the licenses after an order today from Boulder District Court Judge Andrew Hartman turning down the Colorado Attorney General’s request for an injunction to stop the Boulder clerk from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
“There’s only this much evidence of uncertainty,” said Johnson, holding her fingers an inch apart. “People are willing to do it it even with the uncertainty.”
Though Getman and Quintana were the first to snag a license, Anna and Fran Simon, 44 and 45 years old respectively, were the first to get officially hitched. Their seven-year-old son Jeremy was there to witness.
“It means so much for him to know his parents are married, that it’s recognized by the government,” said Fran. “He can grow up with all the protections that affords.”
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Melissa and Lindsey Bedenk, 22 and 23 years old respectively, dropped by the office to see what would become of their marriage, which was officiated this year in Chicago. The office assured them they didn’t need to do anything, legally speaking, but the couple is now planning an in-state ceremony so their extended family in Colorado Springs can celebrate with them.
“I went to Air Academy [High School] and was the only open lesbian the entire time I was in school. That’s how I was known, ‘the lesbian.’ It was hard,” remembered Lindsey. Melissa, who’s in the U.S. Navy, noted that much has changed for them since then — from the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” to the issuing of same-sex licenses in the state they call home.
However, while clerks like Johnson and Hall are busily handing out licenses — forms which still carry the language “husband” and “wife” — not every clerk in the state is willing to join them on that limb. Just this afternoon Pueblo County Clerk Bo Ortiz announced he’ll start issuing same-sex marriage licenses Friday, but if the Bedenks weren’t already married, they wouldn’t be able to get hitched in Colorado Springs.
“Gay marriage is still illegal, unconstitutional. Until the law changes, we have a duty to uphold the law as it is. When the legal dust has settled, we’ll go from there. We’re just not comfortable with breaking the law,” said Ryan Parsell, spokesman for El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams.
Out west in San Miguel County, Clerk Kathleen Eerie said she hasn’t issued any licenses yet, but that’s largely because nobody in the small county has asked for one yet. If they do, Eerie said she’d follow the advice of her attorneys.
“It [gay marriage] is going to happen,” said Eerie. “A lot more quickly than people expected.”
Update for Friday, July 11: Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert Ortiz, who began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples today, said 25 licenses had been issued by the end of the day.
“Today Pueblo County issued 25 marriage licenses to grateful citizens who enjoyed #marriageequality . #copolitics #pueblonews,” Ortiz tweeted.
Nat Stein and Susan Greene contributed reporting to this article.
[Video by Susan Greene, photos by Tessa Cheek, lead photo first couple to get marriage license in Denver: Samantha Getman, right, and Victoria Quintana.]