DENVER — Denver's clerk said Thursday she will join her counterpart in Boulder in issuing marriage licenses to gay couples after a judge said the liberal college town's clerk could keep doing so in defiance of Colorado's gay-marriage ban.
District Court Judge Andrew Hartman ruled earlier in the day that Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall can ignore a federal stay on a ruling from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, which found states cannot set gender requirements for marriage.
The judge said gay marriage is still technically illegal in Colorado but that Hall's behavior was not harming anyone. But he said all who receive a license should be warned that the licenses could still be invalid if a court later finds that Hall didn't have the authority to issue them.
Hartman also noted that every judge who has considered a gay marriage ban in the past year — including one in Colorado the previous afternoon — has found it unconstitutional. He said Colorado's prohibition is "hanging on by a thread."
Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson announced her decision to start issuing licenses to gay couples shortly after Hartman issued his ruling.
Hall has issued more than 100 same-sex marriage licenses since the 10th Circuit ruling on June 25. Republican state Attorney General John Suthers sued Hall, the only clerk in Colorado who defied the federal stay.
Hall argued that despite the stay, Colorado's gay-marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution.
Suthers said Hall's behavior was causing "legal chaos" while the issue works its way through the courts.
Nancy Leong, a University of Denver law professor, said Hartman's ruling effectively allows government officials to sometimes disobey state law if they believe it violates the nation's founding principles. "I read his opinion to say a certain level of what we may call civil disobedience is permissible under the U.S. Constitution," Leong said.