Colorado gay rights group honors Boulder Clerk Hall, other allies, celebrates gains

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]OULDER County Clerk Hillary Hall on June 25 began marrying same-sex couples. It was simple, really, is how she makes it seem. She did it because she felt morally and legally obligated after the federal Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Colorado, ruled that Utah’s gay marriage ban unconstitutionally tramples fundamental rights.

Hall said that, even though Colorado’s marriage ban still stands and even though the ruling against Utah’s ban was stayed, she just wouldn’t have any part anymore in denying individuals their fundamental rights. So she married 202 couples over the course of a month, even as Republican Attorney General John Suthers tried to stop her by targeting her with legal actions in what seemed like as many courts as he could think to involve — a district court, an appeals court, the state supreme court. Hall won four court battles against Suthers and lost the fifth.

On July 29, Suthers succeeded in halting the Hillary Hall Love and Justice Train in Boulder, when the state’s high court issued an order enjoining her to stop marrying gay couples and Hall decided to comply with the order.

“Given the avalanche of recent cases determining that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, I am hopeful the stay will be short-lived and that we will be able to resume issuing licenses soon,” she said.

On Saturday night, LGBT rights group One Colorado at its annual Ally Awards event presented Hall with its inaugural People’s Choice Award. One Colorado supporters voted on the award and they love Hillary Hall. State Senator Jessie Ulibarri and his husband Luis Trujillo read out her name from the stage. They were one of the couples Hall married in July.

“She let us sign a piece of paper that said ‘You’re not second-class citizens,'” said Trujillo in the middle of the University of Denver’s airy glass-enclosed Cable Center atrium.

When Hall climbed the stage, it was clear she was shaken with feeling even before she uttered a word. She said she was overwhelmed by the nomination and by the award.

“Gay marriage was ruled a fundamental right and it was my job to issue marriage licenses, so, well, it just simply made sense,” she said, explaining what she seemed to want to show didn’t really need any explaining, particularly not to the crowd assembled for One Colorado’s Ally Awards.

Before the Supreme Court order halted the Boulder County marriages, which most legal observers concede are enormously meaningful and also probably invalid, Hall was interviewed by media outlets around the state and the country. In all of those interviews she comes off as taken aback by the fact that she could have drawn the kind of attention she did by doing what seemed to her so basic and right.

It was a reaction shared by all of the awardees — a small parade of straight men and women who found themselves on stage and a little embarrassed by the grateful attention they were receiving in the year 2014 for just being openly accepting during the everyday business of life of the people around them — relatives, friends, colleagues, neighbors.

Maria Garcia Berry, an influential state Republican insider for decades, received an award for her longterm against-the-grain dedication to equal rights. She joined the battle in 1992 to defeat Amendment 2, which would have made it legal to discriminate against LGBT Coloradans. She helped pass the state’s civil unions law and is now working to win marriage equality. In accepting her award, she talked about a beloved gay relative who struggled for acceptance and died in the 1980s.

“For me it was always simple. I believe my dear cousin ought to have had the same rights as me… You don’t often get recognized just for doing what is right and just and fair.”

Award winners Izzy Abbass, Will Glenn and Dennis Mont’Ros are the three veterans featured in One Colorado’s “Why Marriage Matters” campaign commercials this year. In the ads, they appeared with veteran Ashley Metcalf, who is gay.

“Why shouldn’t Ash have all the same freedoms we enjoy, including the freedom to marry?” Abbass says in the ad. Accepting his award Saturday Abbas said that the decision to do the commercial was easy. It was clear and obvious and that’s all, he said.

The low-key tone struck by the awardees acted to heighten the emotion in the room. It demonstrated and underlined shared recognition among the crowd of the fact that expectations about equality and fairness were rising and spreading with great real-world effect. Which also matched a larger theme being celebrated by One Colorado at the event, which is how far the movement for gay rights has come in Colorado over the past two decades.

One Colorado Director Dave Montez said this year the group would be focusing more effort on reaching out to conservatives. He explained that young people of all political leanings generally embrace equality for gay people. He said that kind of acceptance provides a place to begin reaching older conservatives and Republican lawmakers so “we can move beyond the point where gay people’s rights are a political football.”

In wrapping up her brief remarks, Hall looked to the future.

“We’re right there,” she said, more like she was thinking out loud than addressing a crowd. “It’s within grasp. We have to keep fighting.”

She gave a shout out to her staff and said something like, “Sure, you can get an idea, but it takes people willing to work with you on it to make it happen.”

[ Image of the 2014 One Colorado Ally Awards cocktail hour at the University of Denver Cable Center by John Tomasic. ]