By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - Colorado's attorney general asked the state's highest court on Monday to order the Boulder County Clerk to stop giving out marriage licenses to gay couples, saying her actions must be governed by the current state of the law, court documents show.
In the latest legal maneuver of his weeks-long tussle with Hillary Hall, the clerk of staunchly liberal Boulder County, Republican Attorney General John Suthers submitted the filing to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Hall has issued nearly 200 licenses to gay couples since a Denver-based federal appeals court ruled late last month that a same-sex marriage ban in neighboring Utah was unconstitutional.
That ruling was subsequently stayed, and Suthers says Colorado's prohibition on same-sex nuptials remains in force.
He sued Hall to force her to stop handing out the permits, but a Boulder judge sided with the clerk. Last week the Colorado Court of Appeals likewise denied Suthers' request to tell her to cease, setting the stage for a review by the state's top court.
Earlier this month, the Colorado Supreme Court ordered the clerk in Denver County, Debra Johnson, to stop handing out the licenses to gay couples until the issue is ultimately decided.
Johnson complied with the order, leaving Hall the only clerk in the state to continue the practice.
On Monday, Hall noted that courts had now rejected five requests of this type from the attorney general, and that she would not stop giving out the licenses to gay couples.
"I think the least harmful and most sensible solution is to continue to issue marriage licenses in order to avoid more potential civil rights violations," she said in a statement.
She said she was pleased with the recent rulings in her favor, and that she did not think the Colorado Supreme Court needs to hear this issue now. But she said she would, however, respect any decision it decides to make.
Suthers said the ruling in the Denver case should apply to all of the state's 64 clerks to avert "legal chaos."
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the federal government last year to extend benefits to legally married gay couples, every federal and state court that has taken up the issue of same-sex marriage – about 20 courts – have ruled against state bans. Most of those rulings are on hold.
Colorado allows same-sex civil unions, but a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2006 defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
In the petition to Colorado's highest court, Assistant Solicitor General Michael Francisco conceded that the state's same-sex marriage ban is unlikely to withstand constitutional scrutiny, but that for now it remains in effect.
"(U)ntil we reach that final analysis, the clerks' actions must be based on the current state of the law, not what it may be in the future," Francisco said.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Walsh)