Aurora man suspends 2014 initiative to overturn Colorado ban on gay marriage

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AURORA | An Aurora man says his small group has halted an effort to ask Colorado voters to repeal the state’s 2006 ban on gay marriage in light of the recent federal court decision to overturn a similar ban in Utah.

“With the recent Utah decision and the change in New Mexico, we decided we would see what happens next,” said Jeremy Mathis. He and Lisa Starcher of Colorado Springs started the initiative process earlier this year hoping that others would jump on the bandwagon to collect the more than 86,000 signatures needed to get the measure on the Colorado 2014 ballot. That hasn’t happened, and so he and others were looking toward the 2016 election.

About 54 percent of Colorado voters approved the state constitutional ban in 2006, which is de facto, limiting marriage between one man and one woman.

Derek Kitchen, left, and Moudi Sbeity, one of the gay couples that challenged Utah's constitutional definition of marriage as about 1,500 people gather to show support of marriage equality at Washington Square, just outside of the Salt Lake City and County Building Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, in Salt Lake City. In light if the court decision, and a pending similar case in Colorado, an Aurora man has suspended and effort to ask voters to repeal Colorado's de facto ban on gay marriage. (AP Photo/The Deseret News, Tom Smart)
Derek Kitchen, left, and Moudi Sbeity, one of the gay couples that challenged Utah’s constitutional definition of marriage as about 1,500 people gather to show support of marriage equality at Washington Square, just outside of the Salt Lake City and County Building Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, in Salt Lake City. In light if the court decision, and a pending similar case in Colorado, an Aurora man has suspended and effort to ask voters to repeal Colorado’s de facto ban on gay marriage. (AP Photo/The Deseret News, Tom Smart)

The surprise court decision on Utah’s ban, a similar nullification of a virtual ban in New Mexico, and a recent Adams County gay couple’s court challenge of Colorado’s ban has prompted to see what might happen next. In October, Rebecca Brinkman and Margaret Burd filed the suit in Adams County District Court, seeking to overturn the Colorado ban on grounds that it’s unconstitutional.

Mathis said he wants to see how their efforts might support new causes and actions to overturn Colorado’s ban. He said he had planned to file the suspension paperwork at the Colorado Secretary of State’s office this week.

The state just this year created civil union legislation that extends some marriage benefits to homosexual couples, but gay unions still do not provide federal benefits as do gay marriages in other states.

A federal judge on Monday allowed gay marriage to continue in Utah, rejecting a request to put same-sex weddings on hold as the state appeals a decision that has sent couples flocking to county clerk offices for marriage licenses.

Judge Robert J. Shelby overturned Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage Friday, ruling the voter-approved measure is a violation of gay couples’ constitutional rights. The state then asked him to put a stop to the weddings, but he rejected the request.

Lawyers for the state quickly filed a request with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to put gay marriage on hold.

More than 200 gay couples have obtained marriage licenses since Friday in Utah’s most populous county. On Monday, an estimated 100 licenses were issued in other counties, while some clerks shut their doors as they awaited Shelby’s decision.

Couples began lining up Sunday night at the Salt Lake County clerk’s office as they hoped to get licenses amid the uncertainty of the pending ruling. They anxiously eyed their cellphones for news on the decision, and a loud cheer erupted once word spread that Shelby wouldn’t be blocking weddings.

For now, a state considered one of the nation’s most conservative has become the 18th to allow same-sex couples to legally wed, joining the likes of California and New York.

In court Monday, Utah lawyer Philip Lott repeated the words “chaotic situation” to describe what has been happening in Utah since clerks started allowing gay weddings. He urged the judge to “take a more orderly approach than the current frenzy.”

Peggy Tomsic, the lawyer for the same-sex couples who brought the case, called gay marriage the civil rights movement of this generation and said it was the new law of the land in Utah.

“The cloud of confusion that the state talks about is only their minds,” she said.

Lawyers for the state waged a legal battle on several fronts as they sought to stop the same-sex weddings.

On Sunday, a federal appeals court rejected the state’s emergency request to stay the ruling, saying it couldn’t rule on a stay since Shelby had not yet acted on the motion before him. The court quickly rejected a second request from Utah on Monday. The state plans to ask the court a third time to put the process on hold.

In Shelby’s 53-page ruling, he said the constitutional amendment that Utah voters approved violates gay and lesbian couples’ rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Shelby said the state failed to show that allowing same-sex marriages would affect opposite-sex marriages in any way.

The ruling has thrust Shelby into the national spotlight. He has been on the bench for less than two years, appointed by President Barack Obama after GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch recommended him in November 2011.

Shelby served in the Utah Army National Guard from 1988 to 1996 and was a combat engineer in Operation Desert Storm. He graduated from the University of Virginia law school in 1998 and clerked for the U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene in Utah, then spent about 12 years in private practice before he became a judge.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.