Marriage Equality, Colorado, and Limbo

Kelsey: Is it too big of a risk to get married at our wedding?

When we got engaged, along with multitudes of other same sex couples all over the country, one of the discussions we had to have was about what we wanted to do about the actual getting married part, since Colorado voted to define marriage as between one man and one woman in 1996 by passing Amendment 43. We don’t own property, or have significant assets, or children yet, however we did want Julie to be covered by my insurance, and, you know, be able to take care of each other if one of us was hit by a bus on the way to work. It seemed that, for us, the best decision was to take advantage of a civil union and eventually get legally married elsewhere in order to access federal benefits. From the first time we had this conversation, Julie was fairly adamant: she did not want to go get legalled before we had our wedding. I agreed—our wedding was the real deal as far as we were concerned, why dilute the impact by getting married beforehand?

And then, Hillary Hall took a stand. Hillary Hall is the county clerk in Boulder, Colorado, and she is responsible for issuing marriage licenses. This June, the tenth circuit court of appeals ruled that gay marriage bans in Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado were unconstitutional—a violation of the Fourteenth amendment even when voter approved. Implementation of the ruling was stayed immediately, since the court anticipated that there would be many appeals. Ms. Hall however, decided that the ruling was good enough for her, and Boulder County began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. There was an immediate mass exodus to Boulder. My email inbox was filled with missives from various activist groups declaring victory in Boulder. Our Facebook feeds were series of smiling couples holding a marriage license between them, some in poses we had witnessed once before at their non-legal weddings, and a few that had found the same posture when civil unions were passed the year before. Julie and I had a choice to make, and, since I’d lived in California when San Francisco issued same sex marriage licenses in 2004 and during the brief, halcyon period after California declared that a marriage ban was unconstitutional but before Proposition 8 was passed, I knew from experience the choice would probably be a time sensitive one. In fact, I doubted that Boulder would be able to continue issuing the licenses past the following Monday when the Attorney General would surely be able to take legal action.

We wavered. I wanted to do more research on the actual, legal implications of getting a marriage license from a county we don’t live in, in a state that doesn’t recognize same sex marriage. Julie crowdsourced: seeking advice from friends and family on Facebook. It might not be worth much, but this might be our only chance to get a Colorado marriage license—should we go for it? The majority of our crowd agreed with what we’d been thinking—the Boulder County licenses, in our case, would be mostly symbolic, but it was my California-based, criminal defense attorney Pops that made the most compelling argument. He wrote on Julie’s wall in favor of our getting the license and concluded, “I’ve never lost a case because I had too much evidence.” In the end, it proved physically impossible for us to get to Boulder to get a license before the end of the week that Hillary started issuing them. I was committed to bridesmaid duties, and Julie was traveling to the East Coast for a funeral. And, as predicted, Colorado’s Attorney General asked Hillary Hall, and the county, to stop issuing the licenses.

She declined.

The Attorney General went to the state legal system and asked them to get Ms. Hall and company to stop issuing the licenses.

They also declined. Which no one expected.

Now with Hillary Hall’s brave example, and a state judicial system that seemed disinclined to take immediate, decisive action (and positive, national, media attention), a handful of other counties decided to issue same-sex marriage licenses as well—including Denver County, where we live. This time, the limited nature of the offer was stated up front: on the day they started issuing the licenses, the Denver County clerk stated that they would issue them until the close of business that day only. There was no guarantee they would do so again. We were both at our respective jobs when the announcement was made, and I came into the break room at the paper store to be greeted by dozens of text messages and emails telling me that we were on the brink of something, and asking what Julie and I planned to do about it. Julie called me. “We could do it. We could get married,” she said.  I could hear her voice shaking. “We could get married here.” My heart was racing too. We never considered that this would be a possibility before our wedding. We figured that after our state congress had adjourned for summer break, no new legislation would pass until they reconvened in the fall. Our highest hopes were maybe that we’d be able to get married here sometime next year, or that we’d move.

“We could go get married today,” I answered her slowly, still thinking. “Or… we could not. I don’t think that they’ll go so far backwards. The ban’s not going to hold, in the end. We could wait, and we could try to get married at our wedding.” The absurdity of my last comment was not wasted on either of us. “It’s a gamble though,” I continued. “If we don’t do it today, we might lose our chance to get a license out here at all.” We discussed it a little longer, and we decided: screw it. This is our marriage. We call the shots. The county clerk doesn’t get to determine the day we get married—we decide. And that decision was made months ago. We’re getting married on September 6th. We’ll pick up that license (if we’re legally able to do so) the very first minute we can—thirty days before our wedding—but we’re not getting married beforehand. It’s a decision we may wish we had made differently if our wedding comes and goes, and we remain legally uncertainly bound to one another.

Until then though, we’re going to follow Hillary Hall’s rather excellent lead and we’ll take a stand: for us, and our wedding, and our marriage. Justice is coming. And we’ll still be here when it does.

Featured Sponsored Content

  • Nell

    I feel for you so very much. You and your fiancee deserve a whole milk marriage, and a whole milk wedding. Nothing less.

  • Molly P. Kopuru

    I hope you’ll have the right to marry soon. I believe you will. Having recently moved to Colorado from an extremely conservative state, it feels like the rate of progress is astonishing (I know there a long way to go, but I am used to completely backwards politics!) and I’m so proud of Ms. Hall for standing up for something she believes in. I know the wave of change is right around the corner,. It’s amazing to watch, and when you finally have the rights you deserve we’ll be cheering right along with you.

  • Kat91314

    LOVE love love this. Get married on your own terms…..that’s the way it should be for all of us, period, end of story.

  • guest

    Congrats on your upcoming wedding! I hope you can get your license today! (if i read that correctly, today is 30 days?)

    • Kelsey

      Correct! 30 days!! I’m not well versed in all the particulars but I believe some sort of federal authority put a stop to the issuing of ALL same sex marriage licenses in CO a week or so ago, including Boulder County, so we won’t be going to get a license today. However! One of the stays mentioned above expires August 25th, and we’re hoping that we might get another window to go get a license. We’ll see, I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high, but we really never expected any of this, so who knows what will happen!

  • “We could wait, and we could try to get married at our wedding.’ The absurdity of my last comment was not wasted on either of us. “It hurts to read something so ridiculous.

    Good for you for not letting someone else dictate when and how you can get married. I hope you get the simultaneous wedding and marriage you deserve next month!

  • MC

    Just one teeny correction – New Mexico didn’t have a ban on same-sex marriage (and actually never has) – it was legalized last December! And the reason it got brought to the state supreme court is because individual county clerks all over the state started issuing marriage licenses!

    I grew up in Boulder County and first registered to vote with Hillary Hall, and it was so exciting to suddenly see her name in the news. My fingers are super crossed that Colorado follows in NM’s steps…!

  • Angela Howard

    This made me cry! I’m so proud of the County clerks in Colorado who are already issuing licenses & can’t wait until it is permanently legal!

  • Emily

    This gave me chills (the good kind) and I love what you finally decided: no one would decide the day you get married! Beautiful! Thank you for sharing.

  • k

    We are also in CO and doing the same thing, but our back up plan is to drive across to Raton, NM (where it’s legal). Good news is that one of the two court cases with stays expires at the end of August. Not sure exactly what that will mean though….

  • Rachelle

    Yay! I’m so happy that (as of now, at least) you will still be able to get your license tomorrow! I’m in Denver too and have been following along with the news – loving that other Colorado counties have been stepping up alongside Boulder. Congratulations and keep us updated!

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Am I correct in understanding that getting the license 30 days out was because you feared they would stop issuing licenses in the 30 days between picking up the license and your wedding?

    In California, there has to be a solemnization within 90 days of picking up the license. It’s generally considered prudent not to pick up the license at precisely 90 days out, because – what if something happens on your wedding day? You want some wiggle room for serious injury, illness, transportation break-downs, etc.

    But we weren’t worried they’d altogether stop issuing licenses for couples like us.

    • Kelsey

      Marriage licenses are only good for thirty days here in Colorado, and yes, we assumed (correctly right now) they would stop issuing them at some point, and thirty days out was the soonest we could get a license and actually sign it, etc. at our wedding. The wiggle room is a very prudent suggestion, but you know, we like to live on the edge ;)

  • Shannon Kitchell

    Brava Kelsey and Julie on not allowing anyone else dictate the day you get married! Congratulations on your upcoming wedding and I hope with all my heart that Colorado does the absolutely just and right thing and you can pick up that marriage license when YOU choose to.

  • Lily

    This post made me weep openly at work… Beautiful, hopeful, courageous… just perfect.

    Aside: as a lawyer, I tend to agree with your dad, but I also love the way your post ended. Best of luck for being able to get married at your wedding.

  • Class of 1980

    “And, as predicted, Colorado’s Attorney General asked Hillary Hall, and the county, to stop issuing the licenses.

    She declined.

    The Attorney General went to the state legal system and asked them to get Ms. Hall and company to stop issuing the licenses.

    They also declined. Which no one expected.”

    Now there’s a civil rights protest in action. Bravo, Hillary Hall.

  • Cee

    Best of luck to you! My partner and I made the opposite decision & got legally married six months before our planned wedding in Utah (we waited in line for nine hours in three locations before we finally got our license). I’m thankful that we did, since Utah will be hauled kicking and screaming into the future, and it looks like we will be here for at least the next year or two.

    Funnily enough, it was after the wedding that we felt “really married,” not after the legal ceremony. But I never expected to be legally married in Utah—we had planned on going to California after the wedding and legalizing it there. It meant a lot to us to be married in the slight window that we got. I hope that you get a chance to get your license and have it go through legally where it should be! Congratulations!

    • Emily

      We legally married about six months before our wedding for other complicating reasons. I had the same feeling that you did–I felt way more married after the wedding.

    • EF

      Hoping that feeling works here too. Legalling has to happen early for other reasons, three months earlier than the wedding. I think it’ll be fine. A good friend of mine described her legal ceremony as simply ‘the court bits’ and the wedding as ‘the emotional bits’ and I like that breakdown!

  • Valerie Day

    We never expected to be able to get legally married by our actual wedding. It wasn’t on the radar (I thought we’d have to wait for the election this November at the earliest), and then everything started happening in Oregon in the few months leading up to our wedding. It was really intense, and nerve wracking. Especially added to the anticipation and stresses already present in the month before your wedding! I am excited for your wedding…and anticipate hearing more. Come on Colorado.

  • Guest

    Kelsey, where did you get your dress?? It is gorgeous.

  • Soraya Swan

    Such an amazing victory story in an otherwise messed-up chapter of our country. You go, girl!