The La Plata County Clerk and Recorder starting issuing gay marriage licenses on Tuesday after the Supreme Court denied hearing appeals from foes of gay marriage laws./Photo by Jennaye Derge

Gay marriage gets green light

by Missy Votel

Bodo Park is at the epicenter of history for the second time in as many weeks. After decades of struggling for marriage equality, same sex couples can now walk into the La Plata County Clerk's Office, pay the $30 fee and obtain a marriage license.

"We're obviously very excited and surprised that it came down so fast," Gregg Weiss, board member for 4CGLAD, said Tuesday. "I never would've thought the tide would've changed so quickly across the country."

 On Mon., Oct. 6, the United States Supreme Court denied hearing petitions from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold gay marriage bans in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. The decision removed the 10th Circuit's  stay on gay marriage that was enacted July 18 pending potential review by the Supreme Court. The lifting of the stay effectively legalized same-sex marriage in those states as well as six others  – Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Upon hearing Monday's national news, La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Parker said she was awaiting the official go-ahead from Colorado Attorney General John Suthers – which came early Tuesday morning.

"We have consistently maintained that we will abide by the Supreme Court's determination on the constitutionality of marriage laws," Suthers, a Republican, said in a news release. "By choosing not to take up the matter, the court has left the 10th Circuit ruling in place ... once the formalities are resolved, clerks across the state must begin issuing marriage licenses to all same-sex couples."

Parker said her office got "the green light" at 9:10 a.m. Tuesday. "I tried to get it out there as soon as we could," she said of a press release that was issued an hour later.

As of Tuesday, Parker had not issued any same-sex marriage licenses but had received a flurry of phone inquiries. Since the licenses are only valid 35 days after purchase, she reasoned some were busy getting ceremony plans in place before actually procuring the license.  

Weiss said he did not know anyone personally who had applied for a same-sex license locally, but that two friends in Oklahoma – one of whom grew up in Durango – had obtained a license. He said as of Tuesday, people were still just finding out. "It happened so fast," he said. "No one expected it that quickly."

For Parker, the news was not a total surprise. "We anticipated a decision before the end of the year, one way or the other," she said.

On June 25, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court overturned the State of Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, paving the way for legalization. Within hours, clerks in Denver, Pueblo and Boulder began issuing same-sex licenses. In about a month, some 350 same-sex marriage licenses were issued in Colorado.

However, on July 18, the Colorado Supreme Court ordered clerks to stop issuing the licenses pending appeals. It took more than a week and two additional court orders before the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall stopped issuing licenses there.

While no same-sex license were issued locally, the La Plata County Clerk's Office has been issuing civil union licenses to same-sex couples since the state Legislature passed a bill permitting them in 2013. Since May 2013, Parker says the County has issued 43 civil union licenses, although the licenses do not differentiate between same- and opposite-sex unions. "But those same-sex couples could get a marriage license now if they chose to," she said. "We're making history here."

Gay-marriage activists and proponents herald the news as growing confirmation of equal rights under law and in the eyes of society. While civil unions are legal agreements that assure same-sex couples benefits afforded other couples, including inheritance, medical power of attorney and retirement benefits, marriage allows them to file joint state tax returns and reap tax benefits. But, marriage also carries a deeper connotation, religiously or otherwise. "Civil unions still felt like second-class citizen status,” said Weiss. “Marriage has a different meaning. Times are changing, and this shows people are interested in making sure there is equality for everyone."

However, he noted this may not be the last word on gay marriage in the United States. While it may be accepted in states under the jurisdiction of the 10th Circuit, the true test will come when married couples travel to sates where it is not legal. “That might be when the Supreme Court finally takes it up,” he said.

Same-sex marriage licenses can be obtained Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., at the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder's Office, 98 Everett St., in Bodo Park. For more information, call the Clerk's Office at (970) 382-6280.