It’s clearly a day of reward and relief for Denver County Clerk Debra Johnson, a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage — so much so that she agreed to deny gay couples marriage licenses so they could sue her and land her name as a defender of the state’s gay-marriage ban on the title of a lawsuit she was destined to lose. Yesterday, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to take up any of the appeals challenging cases that overturned state gay marriage bans like Colorado’s, Johnson lost and won the case.
She was the Hamlet of Colorado county clerks this year, one of the fascinating figures to watch at the heart of the legal-political-cultural gay-marriage story as it sped toward its climax yesterday.
In February, when the action at the heart of the Johnson suit was unfolding and a gay couple was waiting to hear if she would or would not give them a license, she hesitated.
“I’ve been wrangling with it for 24 hours, but I am going to deny the license. I’m going to deny it with a lot of reservations. I’ll put it that way,” Johnson told KDVR. “I think it’s very unconstitutional that loving couples can’t get married… I’ve come to the decision of not issuing the license for the purpose of furthering the cause,” she said. “I really believe that loving couples should have the ability to get married.”
I stood next to her on the Capitol steps during a rally for gay rights after the suit was filed against her. A reporter looking to start up an interview stood next to us. “So, tell me, what are you doing here today Clerk Johnson?” he asked. “Well, what do you think I’m doing here,” she deadpanned. She wasn’t happy. She wanted gay marriage to arrive, sooner not later. She didn’t want there to have to be a lawsuit. She didn’t want to even pretend to defend the ban or have anything to do with it other than to wave it off stage into the dustbin of history.
Today Johnson sent out a happy press release, entitled “Equality Wins.” It is meant to inform county residents to come on down, if they’re of the mind to get hitched, and to bring a partner, gay or straight, because she is open for business to all.
The AP’s Kristen Wyatt reported earlier today from Johnson’s office that there were a lot of reporters milling about but no couples yet arrived to take the plunge.