Gay marriage ruling reflects changing views

Nearly a year to the day after the U.S. Supreme Court declared a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, a federal appeals court, in a sweeping decision, ruled that states cannot prevent gay couples from getting married.

Gay marriage proponents say that Wednesday’s decision by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals should compel Colorado Attorney General John Suthers to stop defending a state ban on same-sex marriage.

We disagree — but not for substantive reasons. There’s a process to be followed.

It was certainly premature for the office of the Boulder County clerk to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses the same day the ruling was announced. Suthers said that until there’s a final court resolution, the licenses are not valid and the state’s ban on same-sex marriage remains in effect.

He’s right. Plus, he’s obligated to enforce state law and the ban remains Colorado law.

Though Suthers must defend the law, the writing’s on the wall. The 10th Circuit took note of the rapidly changing views on gay marriage, stating “the seed has grown” since the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA. We are astonished at the speed with which Americans have flipped on this issue. Indeed, the Sentinel reversed its own long-held opposition to gay marriage in 2010.

Interestingly, the appellate court’s decision technically addressed only Utah’s statute, but appeared to declare all such bans unconstitutionally discriminatory based on the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

The court wrote, “We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right to marry, establish a family, raise children and enjoy the full protection of a state’s marital laws.”

The narrow holding of the decision, however, only invalidated Utah’s ban. It will certainly be cited in what we anticipate will be a flurry of lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of Colorado’s ban.

The court put the ruling on hold pending an appeal. The attorneys general in Utah and Oklahoma will certainly appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. We expect Colorado to join Utah and Oklahoma, or submit briefing on behalf of the state.

Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in 2006, two years after Massachusetts became the first state to allow gay marriage. Colorado approved same-sex civil unions last year.

We continue to believe that states should get out of the business of sanctifying marriage of any kind, leaving that to religious institutions while states authorize civil unions between heterosexuals or homosexuals.

Nevertheless, Wednesday’s ruling is an unequivocal statement that this federal circuit regards marriage as a fundamental right for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

The Supreme Court will have the final word. We expect current trends to continue.


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