Colorado Attorney General John Suthers' efforts to create a "cease fire" in battles over same-sex marriage have created backlash from critics who say he is delaying the inevitable.
During the 13 days since the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Utah's ban on gay marriage, a rapid series of developments in various cases have kept attorneys busy.
A county clerk defied Suthers by issuing same-sex marriage licenses, a group of six couples filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn Colorado's ban on same-sex marriages and the state asked judges for a timeout to let a higher court decide the issue.
During all of the legal maneuvers, all eyes have fallen on Suthers to make his next move.
"I think (Suthers) is stalling," said Ralph Ogden, who is representing one of the couples who received a marriage license from Boulder Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall. "Based on his conduct in the last 10 days, it looks like he is trying to stall everything until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the question — and it may or may not ever rule on the question."
Angela Holley and Bylo Farmer were the third same-sex couple to receive a marriage license from Hall's office. They filed a motion Monday, asking to weigh in on arguments during a hearing Wednesday.
Attorneys, plaintiffs and some Colorado lawmakers have criticized what they consider Suthers' stall tactics. Some of those frustrations may play out during the hearing in Boulder District Court on Wednesday, when Suthers' office will ask a judge to order Hall to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and declare the more than 100 licenses already issued invalid.
Suthers' office declined to comment for this story.
His office presented Hall with compromises, deadlines and threats to seek further legal action to get her to stop issuing licenses. Hall rejected all of them.
On Thursday — more than a week after the first couple received their marriage license — Suthers said his office was "forced to take action" against Hall. He filed a lawsuit asking a judge to order Hall to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
Suthers urged Hall to follow Adams and Jefferson county clerks, who joined with the AG's office and Gov. John Hickenlooper in requesting to suspend legal proceedings in state and federal lawsuits while a higher court rules on the Utah case. The judges overseeing the Colorado cases have not yet ruled on whether they will halt proceedings.
Suthers' request sparked frustration with plaintiffs and their attorneys in both lawsuits.
On July 1, six Colorado couples filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to declare the state's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Mari Newman, one of the attorneys representing the couples, said they vehemently oppose a stay.
"Marriage equality shouldn't be a pawn," Newman said. "They acknowledge they are acting contrary to law, and this is using the lives of real families and children as pawns."
Nine couples from Denver and Adams County filed a lawsuit in October 2013, asking an Adams County District Court judge to overturn the state's gay marriage ban. The judge in that case has not yet issued an order.
Some attorneys general have declined to defend against similar lawsuits in other states, but most have defended their state's same-sex marriage bans.
In a statement Thursday, Suthers said requesting to halt the proceedings creates an efficient and decisive way to resolve several ongoing cases.
Kate Burns and her partner, Sheila Schroeder, are one of the plaintiffs in the federal case. Burns said Suthers' request to halt the proceedings "feels like an injustice." If the stay is granted, Burns worries it could be more than a year before the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to take the case.
"We talk about (the lawsuit) every morning when we wake up and wonder if there will be any changes in our lives," Burns said. "We have to process the confusion and general distress that comes with having to do something like this, to get rights we feel should be granted automatically."
A group of Colorado lawmakers also expressed concern about the stay request.
During a news conference Friday, Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, referenced his personal experience and asked Suthers and Hickenlooper to concede and "stand out of the way of equal rights for all citizens." Steadman's long-time partner, Dave Misner, died in September 2012, after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.
"There are some people who cannot afford to wait any longer," Steadman said. "Because every day this discriminatory unconstitutional law continues to block the path of people's access to equal legal protection in our state is a day that justice is delayed and ultimately denied."
Jordan Steffen: 303-954-1794, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jsteffendp