Gay rights advocates in Boulder County were celebrating Wednesday before many had even had their morning coffee, with two decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court seen as historic victories for advocates of same-sex marriage.
"I'm just sitting here, thrilled -- thrilled, and happy, and wondering what the next steps will bring," former Boulder County clerk Clela Rorex said. "There's a lot of states where the fight's going to continue, but they (states opposing same-sex marriage) don't have much of a legal leg to stand on now."
Rorex long has stood as a seminal figure in the gay rights history in Boulder County -- although she is, herself, heterosexual. It was as a newly elected county clerk in Boulder County in 1975 that Rorex gained international attention by issuing roughly a half-dozen same-sex marriage licenses, before she was persuaded to cease doing so by an opinion issued by the Colorado Attorney General's Office.
She said she did so not through any determination to make history or push boundaries as a gay rights advocate, but, rather, simply because she believed it was the right thing to do and she saw nothing in the law forbidding it.
"I think for me it is seeing something that I believe is a simple issue of right versus wrong," said Rorex, now 69 and living in Longmont. "I certainly wasn't a constitutional attorney at the time I issued same-sex marriage licenses, but as I grew into that decision, my feeling always was that this cannot be constitutional.
"Today we have an answer."
The Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California by holding that defenders of that state's gay marriage ban did not have the right to appeal lower court rulings striking down the ban.
The court's 5-4 vote leaves in place the initial trial court declaration that the ban is unconstitutional. California officials are expected to rely on that ruling to allow the resumption of same-sex unions in roughly one month's time. The high court itself did not address the validity of gay marriage bans in California and roughly three dozen other states.
Colorado has a constitutional amendment, passed by voters in 2006, that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In order to strike down Amendment 43, the Colorado Legislature would require a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate to then put the question before the voters, or a vote could be put on the ballot by way of a petition initiative supported by adequate signatures of registered voters.
Such a vote could only take place during even-numbered years, according to Boulder attorney Jodi Martin, who specializes in issues facing the LGBT community.
'Colorado will step up'
In the other decision announced by the Supreme Court on Wednesday, justices also struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which had prevented same-sex couples from receiving a range of tax, retirement and health benefits generally available to married people. That vote was also 5-4.
Colorado lawmakers earlier this year passed a law permitting civil unions, granting same-sex couples most of the same rights that married couples enjoy under state law, and that measure took effect May 1.
"I'm not really worried about Colorado, because they passed the civil union law, because that's all they could do," Rorex said. "I anticipate they will immediately change that to full marriage. I doubt if it will happen overnight, but unless the governor were to call a special session, it would probably happen next term.
"Absolutely, I think Colorado will step up and do the right thing here."
But for now, Martin said, Wednesday's rulings do not mean that federal spousal benefits will be enjoyed by couples who are in a civil union -- but not married.
Aicila Lewis, the executive director of the Boulder-based LGBT advocacy group Out Boulder, said, "Emotionally, it feels amazing to have had the court so clearly say you can't target a group because they're politically unpopular -- and to so completely acknowledge the fundamental inequity of the laws against same sex couples creating their own legal relationships."
Out Boulder will host a free seminar on July 18 in the Abrams Lounge, at the Center for Community on the University of Colorado campus, for a review of the Supreme Court decisions. Presentations will be made by two attorneys -- Martin and former longtime Boulder County Attorney Larry Hoyt -- who will answer questions concerning practical effects of the rulings.
Lewis was reluctant to handicap the immediate future for same sex marriage in Colorado.
"I think it's too soon to say," she said. "I think people haven't digested enough of the impact, or potential impact. That's one of the reasons we scheduled our panel for a few weeks out, so they could have time to read the full decision in both cases and be able to provide thoughtful commentary."
Members of Out Boulder gathered with gay and lesbian rights supporters to celebrate the rulings later Wednesday at Boulder's Fate Brewing Company.
'Only a matter of time'
U.S. Rep Jared Polis, D-Boulder, who is openly gay but is not married or in an officially recognized civil union, also hailed the rulings.
"I was at the steps of the Supreme Court along with thousands of others, eagerly awaiting this decision, and as it was announced there was a great cheer that arose from everyone there, and it did appear as if everyone there, the thousands of people, were all supportive of marriage equality," said Polis, adding that he sees the decisions as "an important step forward."
Polis is hopeful that Colorado will soon join the 12 other states in the union where same-sex marriage is legal, or soon will be.
"I have seen polls showing that a majority of Coloradans and people across the country now support same-sex marriage," Polis said. "It's only a matter of time until Colorado voters remove discrimination from our constitution and allow all families to be recognized."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Charlie Brennan at 303-473-1327 or firstname.lastname@example.org.