UPDATE 10/7: Gay marriage is now officially legal in Colorado.
Tuesday, the Colorado Supreme Court lifted the final legal barriers standing in the way of same-sex couples obtaining marriage licenses from county clerks.
“There are no remaining legal requirements that prevent same-sex couples from legally marrying in Colorado. Beginning today, Colorado’s 64 county clerks are legally required to issue licenses to same-sex couples who request them. In addition, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is required to register such marriages in the records of the state of Colorado,” Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said in a statement Tuesday.
The sudden legalization of gay marriage in Colorado comes after a surprise decision by the U.S. Supreme Court Monday to not review appeals from five states that were seeking to ban gay marriage: Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. The decision affected Colorado because Colorado, like Oklahoma and Utah, falls under the 10th Circuit Court. The 10th Circuit Court found the same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma unconstitutional; with the Supreme Court's decision to let that ruling stand, Colorado immediately found its own gay marriage ban invalidated.
Some Colorado counties started issuing marriage licenses immediately after the Supreme Court decision, but most decided to wait until all stays put in place by federal and state courts were lifted. With the news Tuesday that those stays were lifted, El Paso County, which had held off, announced that effective immediately, they were issuing licenses to same-sex couples.
PREVIOUS 10/6: A monumental moment for same-sex couples in Colorado came in just 140 characters.
"Once the legal formalities are complete, #samesexmarriage will be legal in Colorado now that #SCOTUS denied ruling," the state attorney general's office tweeted Monday afternoon.
With that tweet, county clerks across the state were given the green light to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
It was all part of a domino effect that started Monday morning when the Supreme Court decided not to review any appeals from five states--Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin--that were trying to ban same-sex marriage. By leaving in place the rulings from the 4th, 7th and 10th Circuits, the Supreme Court's "non-decision" effectively legalized gay marriage in almost a dozen states: the five whose appeals were rejected and six others who fall under the jurisdiction of those lower courts. The Colorado attorney general's office explained how the decision affects Colorado:
"Because the 10th Circuit Court, which has jurisdiction over Colorado, struck down Utah and Oklahoma’s ban, today’s decision by the high court clears the way for same-sex couples to legally wed in Colorado once stay orders have been lifted."
Attorney General John Suthers' office stated that county clerks "can and should begin issuing and recognizing marriage licenses to gay couples."
Pueblo County was one of the Colorado counties that gave out licenses over the summer until ordered by Suthers to stop and wait for a court ruling. Following the Supreme Court's decision, the county immediately resumed handing out licenses.
"I think it is a historical moment for Colorado. We've had that same-sex marriage ban for some time now. And so now, it's open and equal for everyone. So I think it is a big deal for Colorado," Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert Ortiz said.
Kat Rogers and Stacey Nowlin were the first in the county to get their license.
"I think it's a very positive note and I think...'Go government!' I think it's the right thing to do," Rogers said.
"There are so many things you can't do without it," Nowlin added.
Rogers and Nowlin have waited years to get married. They were unable to get their licenses over the summer because Rogers was in the hospital during the brief window of legalization.
"The day I got out, we came up and it was too late," Rogers said.
Larimer County and Douglas County have also begun issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
Meanwhile, the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office is waiting for a few legal loose ends to be tied up before it starts issuing licenses. Suthers' office says stays put in place by federal and state courts need to be lifted before gay marriage is officially legal in the state. His office; the governor's office; and the clerks of Adams, Boulder, Denver and Jefferson Counties have filed joint motions to lift those stays.
"I wish I did have a firm timeline that I could give people but since it's a little bit out of our control I can't say for certain," El Paso County Clerk Ryan Parsell said.
The Denver County clerk is also waiting for the stays to be lifted.
Though many across the state were ecstatic, not everyone is hailing the Supreme Court "non-decision" as a victory. Congressman Doug Lamborn issued the following statement Monday:
"By refusing to take up these appeals, the Supreme Court has allowed unelected activist judges from lower federal courts to usurp the democratic process and undermine the constitutional rights of several states, including Colorado, to define marriage consistent with the values of their citizens."
The court's inaction still means that there is not an official ruling on same-sex marriage nationwide. But it does make same-sex marriage legal in more than half of the states.
Court observers believe a landmark decision will come down in the next year or two.