High court non-decision brings marriage equality to one-time ‘hate state’

“I’m shaking with emotion, I’ve been shaking all day,” said Kate Burns, standing before the Byron White U.S. 10th Circuit courthouse in Denver.

Behind her, the lawyers arguing the federal case she filed this summer to overturn the state’s marriage ban brushed away tears. Burns, along with her partner of 13 years, Sheila Schroeder, has been arrested twice for requesting a marriage license and then peacefully protesting at the Denver Clerk’s office in 2007 and 2009.

“Love gives you strength you never thought you had before,” said Burns, 51, adding that at times she thought marriage equality wouldn’t come to Colorado in her lifetime.

Boulder County Clerk Clela Rorex blazed a trail by issuing same-sex marriage licenses in 1975. The licenses were not legally recognized. Twenty-two years ago observers labeled Colorado “the hate state” after voters here passed Amendment 2, which made it legal to discriminate against gay people. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled the amendment unconstitutional. And it was only eight years ago that Coloradans voted to ban same-sex marriage in the state altogether.

But on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided against hearing appeals in five federal appeals court rulings that struck down state bans. The effect is that same-sex marriage bans in eleven states, including Colorado, have now been effectively overturned. The hate state is now a marriage-equality state.

Mark Thrun and his husband Geoffrey Bateman advocated for same-sex civil unions in Colorado before marrying in Washington. They have two sons, aged 11 and 13, who have been with them all the way.

“Our marriage wasn’t recognized here in our home state where we’re raising our kids,” said Thrun of the couple’s decision to join Burns and Schroeder in the suit to overturn the state’s ban.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers has said the high court’s ruling and the 10th Circuit action lifting decisions overturning the Colorado ban, means county clerks must issue licenses to gay couples.

But clerks in Boulder, Denver and Adams counties have to wait until the state Supreme Court lifts its stay.

Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert Ortiz issued the first same sex licenses this morning. Leona Rogers and her partner Stacey Nowlin became the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Colorado in the wake of the Supreme Court’s announcement.

“I took an oath to uphold constitution of the United States and I feel like this ruling actually allows me to finally do that,” Ortiz said. “I’m very excited and proud that Pueblo could be part of it.”

The high court action resonates with the feeling across the country on the issue. In declining to hear the appeals, the members of the court said what same-sex couples have been saying all along, that the right to marry for couples in love regardless of sexual orientation is a no-brainer.

“It’s funny how much a non-decision can mean in your life,” Burns reflected. “But this is the confirmation that we are full citizens. We’ve been waiting and fighting for this for so long. I just have a much deeper belief and faith in my country for coming through.”

[Rogers and Nowlin hold their marriage license. Image courtesy of Gilbert Ortiz. ]