By Keith Coffman
BOULDER Colo. (Reuters) - A county clerk in Colorado refused on Tuesday an ultimatum by the state attorney general to stop unilaterally issuing same-sex marriage licenses until the U.S. Supreme Court settles the issue, or face legal action.
The conflict in Colorado erupted after the elected clerk of left-leaning Boulder County began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples last week despite warnings from the Republican attorney general that such licenses would be invalid.
The clerk was emboldened by a landmark decision by a Denver-based regional appeals court that found in favor of same-sex marriage in neighboring Utah. That ruling, however, has been put on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court definitively rules on the matter.
“Same-sex licenses are legal and just and we will continue to issue them,” Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall said in a statement rejecting the latest demand of the state attorney general.
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers says the nuptials are invalid because of the hold put on the Utah case by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose rulings apply to six states including Colorado.
But he offered to Hall that the two sides could jointly petition the state Supreme Court seeking a quick ruling on whether the clerk could legally issue marriage licenses to gay couples, and whether they would be valid.
Hall responded by asking for more time to mull over the offer. The attorney general’s office agreed to the extension, but only if Hall stopped issuing the licenses in the interim, Solicitor General Dan Domenico said in a letter to the county’s attorney.
“If she elects to continue after today, I’m afraid we will be forced to take legal action,” Domenico said on Tuesday.
Hall responded that the extension had been “essentially denied” by the attorney general, and said she would continue issuing the licenses. There was no immediate reaction by the attorney general's office.
Outside the Boulder clerk’s office on Tuesday, Julie Hoehing and Nancy Cooley proudly showed the license that they secured before a noon deadline set by the attorney general. The lesbian couple said they wanted to get their license quickly because of the legal uncertainty.
Separately, six same-sex couples filed a lawsuit in Denver federal court on Tuesday, challenging the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage. In February, nine couples filed a similar suit in state court.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)