Judge mulls overturning Colorado gay marriage ban

July 22, 2014
FILE - In this July 10, 2014 file photo, Samantha Getman, right, and Victoria Quintana show their marriage license at the Denver Clerk's office. Colorado's Supreme Court has ordered an end to gay marriages while the state's ban against the unions remains in place. The state's high court on Friday, July 18, 2014, ordered Denver's clerk Debra Johnson to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples pending a ruling on the constitutionality of the gay marriage ban. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, file)

DENVER (AP) — A Denver federal judge was hearing arguments Tuesday from lawyers for six gay couples seeking to overturn Colorado's same-sex marriage ban.

The couples are asking for an injunction declaring the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional, allowing clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Attorney General John Suthers isn't opposing the injunction. But if Judge Raymond P. Moore blocks the law, Suthers is asking that the ruling be put on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court settles the issue.

At the outset, Moore pointed out that Utah's gay marriage ban is still in effect even though a Denver-based federal appeals court has ruled against it. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals put its decision on hold while it's appealed to the Supreme Court.

It's not known how soon Moore will rule but he has said he expects to issue a ruling by Friday.

Mari Newman, one of the attorneys filing suit on behalf of the six couples, said they oppose Suthers' request for a stay.

"Plaintiffs vehemently oppose the state's continuing effort to deny their fundamental constitutional right to marry," Newman said.

The lawsuit alleges the state's same-sex marriage ban violates due-process and equal-protection rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

Colorado voters approved the same-sex marriage ban in 2006, but several recent court rulings have given gay rights advocates hope that the state's law is on the verge of being overturned.

Clerks in Boulder, Denver, and Pueblo counties have already issued licenses to gay couples after court rulings saying same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional. However, the Colorado Supreme Court last week ordered Denver to stop while the state ban remains in place, and the Pueblo clerk stopped on Monday because of that ruling.

The state's attorney general applauded Pueblo's decision.

"No matter one's views on the issue of same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court of Colorado has made clear that until it has had a chance to rule on the merits, clerks must enforce the state's laws, which are still in effect," the attorney general's office said in a statement.

The state Supreme Court ruling did not apply to Boulder's clerk, however. A district judge ruled in the clerk's favor this month, allowing same-sex marriage licenses to continue. Clerk Hillary Hall has issued 172 licenses to gay couples over the past month. She began issuing the licenses in late June after the 10th Circuit ruled on Utah's ban, saying states cannot prevent people from marrying based on their gender.

More than 20 courts have issued rulings siding with gay marriage advocates since the Supreme Court's ruling last year striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. The rulings have come in 17 states.