Rally for same-sex marriage held at Capitol

The Colorado Statesman

Marriage equality advocates rallied at the Capitol on Monday, imploring that “all loving, committed couples should have the freedom to marry in the state that they call home.”

The rally came as nine couples have filed a legal challenge to Colorado’s constitutional ban on marriage for same-sex couples. The lawsuit comes in the midst of a groundswell of support for gay marriage, and a shift in the national landscape for marriage equality.

A second Colorado lawsuit challenging the ban on same-sex marriage was filed in Adams County.

Two other federal cases — one for Utah couples and the other for Oklahomans — are also expected to be heard next month by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Colorado and is based in Denver. The court is hearing the cases after federal judges in Utah and Oklahoma struck down constitutional bans on gay marriage. The challenges could make it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Well-known Colorado lobbyist and business leader Maria Garcia Berry, a Republican, addresses the issue of same-sex marriage at the “Why Marriage Matters” rally outside the State Capitol on March 3.

The prominent lawsuit filed by the nine couples from Colorado states, “Colorado law created two classes of citizens: those free to marry the person they love, and those denied that fundamental right. Same-sex couples in Colorado are relegated to a second-class level of citizenship that denies their relationships the full panoply of rights enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples.”

A group of supporters show off their signs on the Capitol’s west steps before the “Why Marriage Matters” event begins.

Proponents are also working on a ballot initiative for 2016 that would allow same-sex marriage and reverse the state’s 2006 voter-approved ban on gay marriage. But the courts may offer an opinion prior to the ballot drive.

State Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, and House Speaker Mark Ferrandin, D-Denver, enjoy the “Why Marriage Matters” rally from the west steps of the Capitol on March 3.
Photos by John Schoenwalter/The Colorado Statesman

The rally on Monday served to launch an educational campaign called “Why Marriage Matters Colorado.” One Colorado, the ACLU of Colorado and Freedom to Marry are spearheading it.

“Why Marriage Matters Colorado will broaden the dialogue with Coloradans about why marriage is important to same-sex couples and their families and why it is consistent with the values of liberty and freedom,” spokesman Jon Monteith said of the mission of the campaign.

Organizers pointed to Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson as the face of the outreach effort, who attended the rally but did not speak. Johnson denied marriage licenses to gay couples in order to allow the lawsuit to move forward, despite her support of gay marriage.

“My belief is equality, fairness. Couples that love each other should have the ability to get married,” Johnson said following the rally. “The decision was very hard not to give out licenses.”

Several Democratic lawmakers spoke at the rally, with others looking down at the crowd and waving from the west balcony above the steps of the Capitol where supporters rallied for marriage equality.

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, who is openly gay and entered into a civil union with his partner on the Capitol balcony above where he spoke at the rally, said it was not enough to pass same-sex civil unions legislation last year.

“We’re not done fighting,” said the speaker. “We need full equality for every couple here in Colorado and that means we have to work together from these Capitol steps and travel the entire state talking about why marriage matters to our LGBT couples.”

Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, who is also gay and an ordained clergywoman, said she looks forward to the day when she can marry same-sex couples, calling herself the “Honorable lesbian senator in the Colorado state Senate.”

“As I look out from here to the mountains, I’m honoring these words that say that today there is a call from this place to beyond those mountain tops that justice is going to roll down like waters here in Colorado and throughout this nation.”

Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, another gay lawmaker, said supporters are “taking a stand to be on the right side of history.”

“The time has come for marriage equality,” he said to cheers and applause. “It’s time for the freedom to marry — and everybody knows it.”

Other prominent elected officials offered their support in a news release from organizers, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, who loudly supported civil unions but has been quieter on marriage equality. Hickenlooper is facing re-election this year.

“We have advocated for equal rights for all Coloradans and we will continue to advocate for equal rights for all Coloradans,” the governor said in a statement. “Last year, Colorado took a historic step forward when we passed bipartisan legislation recognizing civil unions. If all men and women truly have the inalienable right to pursue happiness, and if all people are created equal, then by extension of law, logic and love, every adult couple should also have the freedom to join in marriage.”

U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, and U.S. Reps. Jared Polis, who is gay, Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter, also Democrats, offered their support in the news release.

A handful of Republicans have also joined the movement. A group of prominent Western conservatives and moderates have filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting gay marriage and the Oklahoma lawsuit in the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Colorado Republicans signing on include former state Rep. B.J. Nikkel of Loveland, who supported civil unions, and GOP attorney Richard Westfall, as well as former state senators Al White of Hayden and his wife, former Sen. Jean White, who also supported civil unions legislation and was attacked in a divisive Republican primary for her vote.

“They embrace Ronald Reagan’s belief that the Republican Party must be a ‘big tent,’” according to the brief filed by Republicans in support of the federal lawsuit.

Maria Garcia Berry, a Colorado Republican and prominent lobbyist and business leader, said marriage equality falls in line with Republican principles.

“As a Republican small business owner, I believe the freedom to marry is consistent with conservative values of limited government and individual freedom,” she said. “Freedom means freedom for everyone, and I’m proud to join this effort to remove discrimination from Colorado’s constitution and move our state forward.”

But Republican Attorney General John Suthers believes reversing the ban in Colorado would fly in the face of voters and violate the state constitution. He will defend against the lawsuit in federal court.

“It is the job of the Attorney General’s Office to defend our state laws,” Suthers said in a statement. “We will defend against this new lawsuit as we would any other.”


See the March 7 print edition for full photo coverage.