DENVER - Nine same-sex couples in Colorado filed a lawsuit Wednesday asking for marriage license for the five couples who are not married, and asking for marriage recognition for the four couples who were married in other states.
Eight years ago, voters banned gay marriage in the Colorado constitution.
The lawsuit claims the gay marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution.
"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," the lawsuit says. "Even same-sex couples who have been validly married in other states are stripped of their marital status when they enter the state of Colorado. This denial of equal protection, due process, and basic fairness violates the Constitution of the United States of America."
Last year, state lawmakers passed a bill granting unmarried couples, both gay and heterosexual, the right to apply for a civil union. The bill took effect on May 1, 2013.
However, the lawsuit claims that's an unequal option.
"Like many other couples with a life-long commitment, the Unmarried Plaintiffs are spouses in every sense, except that Colorado law will not allow them to marry, instead only offering them the second-class and unequal option of civil unions," the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit says the same-sex marriage ban stigmatizing the children of the eight plaintiffs who have children.
"Further, they and their children are stigmatized and relegated to a second-class status by being barred from the institution of marriage and forced into a separate and lesser status of civil unions. In Colorado, same-sex couples cannot properly refer to one another as spouses; they cannot properly represent that they are married. Instead, they are merely “partners” or “unionized,” the lawsuit says. "The parents among the plaintiffs struggle to explain to their children why they have been relegated to this lesser status, why they cannot be married like their friends’ parents. They struggle for an explanation because there is no valid justification for such an unconstitutional classification."
The lawsuit says "in the not-so-distant past" Colorado had laws prohibiting marriage between people of different races. That changed in 1957.
"Our courts and society have discarded, one by one, marriage laws that violated the mandate of equality guaranteed by the Constitution," the lawsuit says. "History has taught that the legitimacy and vitality of the institution of marriage does not depend on upholding discriminatory laws."
Same-sex couples are allowed to marry in 17 states and the District of Columbia.
The couples that filed the lawsuit have been together 3 to 18 years. They all live in Denver.
The lawsuit was filed against Denver Clerk & Recorder Debra Johnson, the State of Colorado and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper because they "are responsible for enforcing Colorado’s laws barring same-sex couples from marriage and refusing to recognize the valid out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples."
Johnson said she wanted to give the licenses to the couples, but felt obligated to honor her oath of office to follow the laws of the state.