Bringing it Home: Pitkin County clerk awaits decision on same-sex marriages
Ryan Summerlin August 2, 2014
Editor’s note: “Bringing It Home” runs weekends in The Aspen Times and focuses on state, national or international issues that have ties to or impacts on the Roaring Fork Valley.
With respect to the uncertainty surrounding the same-sex-marriage ban in Colorado, Pitkin County Clerk and Recorder Janice K. Vos Caudill said she will do what the other 63 county clerks are doing.
Which means this: She will wait for a high-court ruling that decides the issue one way or another.
In recent weeks, clerks in three Colorado counties where marriage licenses were being issued to same-sex couples have been ordered to bring such activity to a halt. The Colorado Supreme Court reportedly has said it plans to hear arguments in the matter, but exactly when it will take up the issue is not known.
“We’ve complied with the laws,” Vos Caudill said. “We’ve issued same-sex-civil-union licenses accordingly. While Boulder, Denver and Pueblo (county clerks) were issuing marriage licenses, other counties were not.”
Since May 2013, Colorado has allowed civil unions for same-sex couples. Marriage licenses are taboo because of the ban approved by state voters in 2006.
The county clerks in Boulder, Denver and Pueblo were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples — about 350, according to news reports — in response to a June 25 ruling by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that said Utah’s gay-marriage ban was unconstitutional. Colorado is one of six states within the 10th Circuit federal court district.
It remains to be seen whether the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the Utah case. If it doesn’t, then gay-marriage bans in Colorado and the other five states become unconstitutional. But the Colorado Supreme Court also could weigh in on the state ban, as it said it would, before (or regardless of whether) the U.S. Supreme Court gets involved. The 10th Circuit is not the only area of the United States where same-sex-marriage bans are under constitutional scrutiny.
“There’s a halt on issuing marriage licenses (to same-sex couples) in the state of Colorado,” Vos Caudill said. She said that since the June 25 ruling, her office has had only one or two inquiries from couples seeking same-sex marriages.
“We’d be happy to issue them when we receive notification that we can move forward,” she said. “We’re waiting to see what the courts say. We’ve had more inquiries about it from the media than from couples.”
Longtime Aspen residents Bert Myrin and Walt Madden didn’t wait for either the Colorado or U.S. high court. They were married Tuesday in Delaware, one of 21 states that permit same-sex marriages (along with Washington, D.C.).
Still, for Myrin, 46, the issue about where to get married had less to do with which states allow same-sex marriages and more with the laws within such states regarding divorces. Those who are familiar with Myrin, a former member of the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission, know he is meticulous regarding potential outcomes.
“I’m always looking at what could be the next problem,” he said, acknowledging that he viewed development issues brought before the commission in the same manner.
Madden, 52, gave Myrin the OK to conduct the research.
“Although you have all these states where you can get married, there are very few where you can actually unwind the marriage,” Myrin said. “I don’t expect to divorce. I don’t expect that anything will change; we’ve been together for 19 years.”
Myrin said he tried to find a state that allowed same-sex marriages for out-of-state residents but that also didn’t place heavy burdens or restrictions on couples if they wanted to divorce. There were only a few states that fit the bill, and one was Delaware.
Many same-sex couples across the United States are finding out that it’s not so hard to find a state that allows marriages but that getting a divorce is a much more difficult proposition, he said.
Also, Myrin said he and Madden preferred marriage over a civil union. There are legal distinctions between states — and also between states and the federal government — relating to marriage and civil unions. Marriage is recognized by all states and the federal government, whereas civil unions aren’t.
“It has to do with benefits and obligations,” Myrin said. “The problem is, if you are in a civil union and you leave Colorado, the other state may say, ‘We don’t know what a civil union is in Colorado. That’s a Colorado creation. You’re in Texas now.’ And the federal government, also. You can go for federal benefits, and they can say, ‘A civil union? We don’t know what that is. That’s not marriage.’
“Whereas, we can go to Iowa, or any state that recognizes same-sex marriages, and file for a benefit, and they are recognized. And we are recognized by the federal government as married wherever we are now.”