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Colorado court tells county to stop issuing gay marriage permits

By Daniel Wallis and Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - Colorado's top court ordered the Boulder County Clerk on Tuesday to stop giving out marriage licenses to gay couples while it considers an appeal by the state's attorney-general who says a ban on same-sex nuptials remains in force.

The clerk, Hillary Hall, has issued 202 of the permits since late last month when a federal appeals court ruled in favor of gay marriage in conservative, neighboring Utah.

That ruling was subsequently stayed pending appeal, and Colorado's Republican Attorney General John Suthers accused Hall of willfully misinterpreting the decision.

After Suthers failed in several legal bids to get her to stop, the Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to his request and stayed the clerk from issuing anymore of the permits pending resolution of Suthers' appeal.

Hall said she was disappointed, but that she would comply with the order.

"Given the avalanche of recent cases determining that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, I am hopeful the stay will be short-lived and that we will be able to resume issuing licenses soon," the clerk said in a statement.

Suthers said the decision restored order to Colorado's legal process by making it clear that all clerks and recorders should comply with existing state law.

"We are pleased that the focus may now return to the important constitutional issues posed by the same-sex marriage cases pending in Colorado and around the country," he said.

The saga in Boulder began late last month when a Denver-based federal appeals court ruled that a same-sex marriage ban in neighboring Utah was unconstitutional.

Emboldened by that decision, Hall began offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples who she said had waited long enough to marry the person they loved.

She was soon followed by the elected clerks of Denver and Pueblo counties, who also began giving out permits.

Earlier this month, the Colorado Supreme Court ordered the Denver County Clerk, Debra Johnson, to stop issuing the licenses to gay couples until the issue is ultimately decided.

The clerk in Pueblo county agreed "reluctantly" earlier this month to the state's request that he stop.

Suthers had argued that the ruling in the Denver case should apply to all of the state's 64 clerks to avert "legal chaos."

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the federal government last year to extend benefits to legally married gay couples, every federal and state court that has taken up the issue of same-sex marriage, approximately 20 courts, have ruled against state bans. Most of those rulings are on hold pending resolutions by higher courts.

Colorado allows same-sex civil unions, but a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2006 defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

Lawyers for the state have conceded that Colorado's prohibition on same-sex marriage is unlikely to withstand constitutional scrutiny, but that for now the behavior of county clerks should be governed by the laws as it stands.

(Reporting by Daniel Wallis and Keith Coffman; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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