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Top Colorado Court halts Denver gay marriages

DENVER – Colorado’s Supreme Court on Friday ordered the Denver County clerk to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples while the state’s ban against the unions remains in place.

The two-page ruling noted that a judge who ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex unions was unconstitutional put his decision on hold pending appeal, meaning the definition of marriage approved by Colorado voters in 2006, as between one man and one woman, remains active.

Denver Clerk & Recorder Debra Johnson, one of three county clerks in Colorado who began issuing licenses to same-sex couples recently after a string of legal victories for gay marriage in the state, responded on Twitter: “Disappointed, but respect ruling.”

The court’s decision also named the clerk in Adams County, which hasn’t issued gay marriage licenses but was included as part of a lawsuit on the constitutionality of the state’s gay marriage ban.

Attorney General John Suthers praised the court’s decision. “The message should be clear enough,” he said in a statement Friday. “We assume that all the state’s clerks will heed the Supreme Court’s direction without requiring more wasteful litigation.”

Nancy Leong, a law professor at the University of Denver, however, said the ruling does not apply to clerks elsewhere. “The court can only do what the plaintiffs ask them, and these plaintiffs only asked them to stay Denver/Adams,” she said.

Boulder and Pueblo, the two other counties issuing same-sex marriage licenses but weren’t named in the suit, said they would continue their practice.

“At this time we are evaluating what the implications are for Pueblo County,” clerk Gilbert Ortiz, said via Twitter. “For the time being we will continue to issue licenses.”

Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall said in a statement she would also continue issuing the licenses.

Several other county clerks have asked the high court for guidance on whether they can recognize gay marriages now.

A Republican, Suthers has acknowledged that gay marriage will eventually be legal in Colorado but says he has an obligation to defend the state’s laws.

He is appealing to the state Supreme Court the ruling that called the state’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional, a process that will take months.