The Boulder County Clerk and Recorder's Office continued issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Thursday, and though the war of words between county officials and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers about the validity of the licenses heated up, Suthers made no attempt to stop their issuance.

A half-dozen gay and lesbian couples lined up outside the clerk's office, 1750 33rd St., in Boulder before it opened at 8 a.m. Thursday, eager to obtain marriage licenses a day after Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall determined that a U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling throwing out a gay marriage ban in Utah cleared the way for same-sex marriages in Colorado.

Among those in line were Barbara Brown and Karen Hammer, of Boulder, who have been together for 10 years and were married in California in 2008.

They came to the clerk's office because they wanted to have their out-of-state marriage recorded in their home city, county and state, they said.

"This is our home, and it's very exciting," Hammer said. "This is a legal breakthrough and a personal breakthrough. We were going to apply for a civil union license, but we wanted it to be recorded as a marriage because that's what it is."

One of the six couples chose to leave the clerk's office empty-handed, however.

Michael Hawk and Steve Bingham, of Genesee, decided not to get a license because the clerk's traditional document had a space for a bride's signature.

"We want it to reflect what our actual relationship is, which is groom and groom," Hawk said. Despite not obtaining the license, the two plan to marry in Winter Park in September.

By the time the office closed at 4:30 p.m., Boulder County had issued a total of 32 marriage licenses to same-sex couples, bringing the total over two days to 34, according to Hall.

She said the satellite offices in Lafayette and Longmont will be offering licenses for same-sex couples beginning Friday.

Angie Holley, left, and Bylo Farmer kiss after receiving their marriage license at the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder’s Office in Boulder on
Angie Holley, left, and Bylo Farmer kiss after receiving their marriage license at the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder's Office in Boulder on Thursday, June 26, 2014. (Cliff Grassmick / Daily Camera)

"It was a fantastic day," Hall said. "It was wonderful to be a small part of a day that so many have worked so hard to bring to life."

10th Circuit ruling on Utah ban

Late Wednesday afternoon, Hall announced she would begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling earlier in the day that Utah's ban on gay marriage violates the Constitution's guarantees of equal protection and due process.

Suthers, however, announced that any such licenses issued in Boulder County would not be valid because the state's gay marriage ban remains in effect.

Boulder County issued licenses to two same-sex couples late Wednesday afternoon before the clerk's office closed.

On Thursday morning, Hall said she was prepared for a legal challenge from the state should that come.

"We really feel these are legal, valid marriage licenses," Hall said. "We wouldn't issue them if we didn't."

William Porter, a spokesman from the office of Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson, was on hand Thursday to help "show solidarity." He said his office will not be issuing licenses to same-sex couples for the time being but intends to do so "as soon as legally possible."

"Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson stands with the 10th Circuit Court, with Boulder County and with Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall," Porter said. "We look forward to the day we can issue marriage licenses to all loving couples in Colorado."

Suthers declined to speak to the Daily Camera on Thursday, but in an interview with Denver's CBS4 News, he elaborated on his opposition to same-sex licenses being issued in Colorado. He noted that the 10th Circuit Court issued a stay on its own ruling until the issue can be settled by the Supreme Court.

"The rest of the clerks and recorders understand this," Suthers told the TV station. "Only Boulder, I think being apparently a fairly political animal, wants to say, 'Well, I'm not going to listen to the second part of the case and I'm going to issue the orders.'"

Suthers expressed concerns about couples getting married with licenses from Boulder County and then applying for insurance benefits only to run into a roadblock when they seek to file a claim and see their marriage isn't legally recognized.

"(Hall is) really acting on her own, and I would hope that she would seek out competent legal advice and decide this is contrary to law," Suthers told CBS4. "Because regardless of what your emotions are — this is an incredibly emotional topic — public officials should adhere to the rule of law. And she's not doing that."

Deputy Boulder County Attorney David Hughes said he and Hall had been awaiting the 10th Circuit Court's ruling in the Utah case and decided Wednesday afternoon that offering licenses to same-sex couples was not only permitted but a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution.

"When it came to issuing marriage licenses, Clerk Hall believed she had a choice between keeping her sworn oath to uphold the Constitution or doggedly enforce a law that by all indications is unconstitutional," Hughes said. "And she chose to stand with the Constitution."

Even so, considering the fluid legal situation when it comes to same-sex marriage in Colorado — where a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state's gay marriage ban is being argued in an Adams County Court — same-sex couples who have obtained or intend to obtain a marriage license in Boulder County should be aware of the risks.

"I think any couple walking into the Boulder County Clerk's Office needs to be aware that there could be legal consequences to getting a marriage license at this time, under these circumstances," Hughes said. "But that being said, Clerk Hall felt that those people who wanted to exercise their fundamental right to marriage shouldn't have to wait any longer."

University of Colorado law professor Jennifer Hendricks said Thursday that, in her opinion, Hall's issuance of the licenses is in a good position, legally speaking. Hendricks, an expert in family and reproductive law, said that while the 10th Circuit has not ordered compliance with its ruling, it has said that allowing same-sex couples to marry is the law in its jurisdiction, which includes Colorado.

"Her argument, ultimately, when the dust settles, is if the Colorado ban is deemed unconstitutional, which seems likely, then all of these marriage certificates should be fine and valid," Hendricks said.

Hendricks said the state could take legal action to stop Hall, but it is unclear if the attorney general has authority to move against the clerk's office.

"In the meantime, there is still the state case pending in Colorado," she added. " And that judge is not actually bound by the 10th Circuit decisions ... but it is very informative, and he's likely to take it seriously."

'Something that is inevitable'

Josh Hufford, 31, a software engineer from Denver, and partner Levi Healy, 34, got their marriage license Thursday.

"It's surreal, is what it means to us, something we didn't think possible for us this year," Hufford said.

When asked about Suthers saying the marriages would be invalid under Colorado law, Hufford said: "I'm disappointed that he feels that needs to be stated. The stay (of Wednesday's 10th Circuit ruling) only applied to Utah and not other states.

"All this is doing is wasting taxpayers' money for something that is inevitable," Hufford said of Suthers' declaring the licenses invalid.

Ralph Shnelvar, the Libertarian Party candidate for the Boulder County clerk's post in this year's general election, said he agrees with the 10th Circuit ruling, and he'd also be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

He advised that such couples should also get a civil union license.

Otherwise, same-sex couples getting marriage licenses "may be looking for a lot of trouble in the future" if those licenses are held to have been invalid at the time they were issued, Shnelvar said.

"I am in full sympathy with and support anybody who wants to take on all the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage," Shnelvar said. "Love is love."

The Denver Post and Longmont Times-Call Staff Writer John Fryar contributed to this report. Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328, rubinoj@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/rubinojc.