The Denver County clerk's office on Thursday began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, just hours after a Boulder judge rejected a bid by the state to block a similar move there.
The first couple to get a license, Samantha Getman, 33, and Victoria Quintana, 23, got their certificate shortly before 2 p.m. They were far outnumbered by reporters, photographers and activists.
"Whether they say it's invalid or not, we're married," Getman said.
Another couple, Jason Marsden and Guy Padgett, posed with their license moments after receiving it.
"I have a feeling I didn't have an hour ago," said Marsden, 42. "I feel like I exist."
Padgett, 36, added: "Colorado's our home. We didn't want to go to some other state."
Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson's decision came after a Boulder County judge said he would allow Boulder's clerk to continue issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, rejecting a request from Attorney General John Suthers to issue an injunction.
Denver issued 17 licenses to same-sex couples Thursday afternoon.
Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert "Bo" Ortiz said he will begin issuing licenses to gay couples on Friday morning, and other county clerks said they were considering their next steps. At least four counties — El Paso, Arapahoe, Jefferson and Weld counties — said they had no plans to follow suit.
Suthers, who saw his second defeat in court on the issue in as many days, issued a statement that said the matter "cries out for resolution by the state's highest court."
Gov. John Hickenlooper said in a statement that the decision "puts Colorado on the right side of history" and urged the attorney general not to appeal the ruling. He added that if Suthers felt he must appeal, he should go to the Colorado Supreme Court.
Johnson, who is gay, was beaming as she awaited the first couple to walk through the doors.
"It's so gratifying," she said. "I'm so excited. I was just talking with someone on the phone, and I said, 'I didn't think it would ever happen in my lifetime.'"
Getman said a friend saw a tweet by The Denver Post about Johnson's decision to issue licenses, and the couple rushed to the clerk's office.
"Go, go, go!" Quintana squealed in a high-pitched voice, recalling the rush. "We came down here real quick."
"We wanted to come down and get it before someone could take it away," Getman said of the certificate.
Another couple, Fran and Anna Simon, showed up with their son, 7-year-old Jeremy. So far, they've been together 11 years.
Dressed in black and white attire, with Anna wearing a hat, they exchanged vows — self solemnizing — and signed the document, making their marriage official, becoming the first same-sex couple to be married and recorded in Denver.
In exchanging vows, Anna told Fran: "I'll love, honor and respect you ... be your wife for the rest of my days."
Fran seemed a bit nervous after following Anna's beautiful and heartfelt lead, ad-libbing: "You've been practicing."
Fran quickly recovered, adding: "I'll love you the rest of my life."
Earlier Thursday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said he would back any decision Johnson made about issuing licenses to same-sex couples.
"As a city, we have stood together against injustice and for the rights of all people," Hancock said in a statement. "Today, I fully support Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson in her issuing of marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples who simply want the freedom to be united with the ones they love. I stand proudly with her as we take another step toward marriage equality for every single resident of this great city."
When Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall began issuing same-sex marriage licenses on June 25, Johnson had said Denver would hold off until officials felt they had the legal authority to follow suit.
On Thursday, though, Denver clerk's spokesman William Porter said Johnson decided on a change in course in consultation with city attorneys, following the new Boulder ruling and the outcome of another lawsuit naming Johnson. Couples in Denver and Adams counties challenged the state's same-sex marriage ban in Adams County court, and a judge ruled Wednesday that the ban is unconstitutional.
But in that case, Judge C. Scott Crabtree issued an immediate stay in his ruling, pending the state's expected appeal.
The Boulder ruling Thursday gave Denver legal cover, in officials' view.
"Now, thanks to Clerk Hall's bravery, we can issue licenses today," Porter said.
He added: "We view this not only as the legal green light, but we're thankful that we can finally provide this fundamental right. We're one step closer to marriage equality, but this is not the end of the journey."
City Attorney Scott Martinez was on hand in the clerk's office Thursday. He had given Johnson the green light.
"The decision to deny (Suthers' request) changed the legal analysis for us," Martinez said, "and we advised the clerk that she was free to issue licenses based on a complete legal analysis of the law as it stands today.
"It's a big day. And the Denver clerk and recorder played by the rules."
Still, as has happened in many places, the quick decision means same-sex couples will have to fill out marriage license application forms that ask for information on a "bride" and "groom," at least until Denver's online system can be reprogrammed in a few days.
In the Boulder ruling on a temporary restraining order request, Judge Andrew Hartman wrote that the validity of any marriage licenses issued by the Boulder clerk's office to same-sex couples was conditional ultimately upon courts finding Hall had the proper authority.
About the legal limbo that the Boulder County judge says surrounds any same-sex marriages issued before there's a final ruling, Johnson said: "There is that possibility, but for now, there is the green light. So we can do it."
The Denver clerk's office is on the first floor of the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building, 201 W. Colfax Ave.
Jon Murray: 303-954-1405, email@example.com or twitter.com/JonMurray
Denver Post reporter Rex Santus contributed to this report.