Pitco escapes debate over gay marriage | AspenTimes.com

Pitco escapes debate over gay marriage

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

While gay couples test marriage laws around the country, Pitkin County has yet to see a same-sex couple seek a marriage license at the local courthouse.

But a same-sex couple hoping to marry in Pitkin County would be denied a license, according to Silvia Davis, the county’s longtime clerk and recorder.

“It’s against state law,” she said simply.

Local officials elsewhere, however, are putting state laws and constitutions to the test.

No state yet recognizes same-sex marriages, but San Francisco city officials have performed more than 3,600 such marriages in recent weeks.

Hundreds of gay couples have been granted wedding licenses in Portland, Ore., and the first same-sex marriage took place this week in New Jersey.

City officials in Asbury Park, N.J., voted Wednesday to stop accepting marriage license applications from gay couples; but they also voted to file a lawsuit seeking court approval to continue issuing such licenses.

The City Council there acted after state Attorney General Peter C. Harvey threatened criminal prosecution if city officials did not stop granting the licenses, according to a report by The Associated Press.

In Massachusetts, the state Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex marriages must be granted starting in mid-May. Some businesses are gearing up for an anticipated flurry of activity when same-sex couples can tie the knot, according to a recent article in The Out Traveler, a gay-oriented travel magazine.

A decade ago, it was Aspen and a few other Colorado cities in the national spotlight over gay rights. They were fighting to overturn a state constitutional amendment that prohibited governments from granting “special status” to gays and lesbians.

The city, however, doesn’t issue marriage licenses. In Colorado, that function is delegated to counties, and no couples have come forward in Pitkin County to thrust local government into the mushrooming national debate over who has the right to marry.

Nonetheless, The Associated Press was interested in hearing Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud’s thoughts on the subject. A reporter from the news service contacted Klanderud when the issue exploded.

“I believe Aspen is about diversity, and we welcome diversity,” she said yesterday. “I believe committed couples should be accorded equal rights.”

The city has a long history of supporting equal rights, Klanderud noted.

Aspen was a front-runner in adopting an ordinance that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as a host of other characteristics, including race, religion, handicaps and age. The ordinance, adopted in 1971, was threatened when Colorado voters endorsed Amendment 2 in 1992. (The amendment failed locally.)

The measure would have prevented Aspen from prosecuting anyone for violating the city’s anti-discrimination law as it related to gays and lesbians, according to City Attorney John Worcester.

A coalition that included Aspen, the city of Boulder, the city and county of Denver and various individuals fought Amendment 2 all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was overturned in 1994.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]