As the number of states legalizing same-sex marriage increases with each passing year, the pressure is mounting for states such as Colorado to change their laws to reflect a growing national consensus that marriage between same-sex partners is a constitutional right. Thus far, Colorado has only allowed civil unions or domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian couples as well as heterosexual couples.

Colorado's gay marriage supporters recently celebrated a federal judge's ruling that the state's restriction on gay marriage is unconstitutional. However, the gay marriage ban will remain on the books until a higher court considers the verdict. This leaves couples who obtained marriage licenses in Colorado wondering what's next. The verdict came from the case of six same-sex couples who filed a lawsuit against Colorado's ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution. According to the judge, the plaintiffs showed that they will likely succeed in their challenge of the state's ban. The plaintiffs will also be the ones who are harmed if the gay marriage ban is not struck down.

In June, a similar decision was announced for Utah's same-sex marriage ban. With the feeling that federal judges are moving toward making gay marriage legal state by state, clerks in several Colorado counties have begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Whether these marriage licenses will ultimately be legally valid is not yet known, but Colorado's attorney general is asking higher courts to make a clarification regarding the situation rather than make piecemeal decisions state by state.

Federal court rulings on family law issues such as same-sex marriage profoundly affect straight and gay families, same-sex couples and supporters and opponents of marriage equality. Whether the Colorado's gay marriage ban is ultimately determined to be unconstitutional or not, residents should be mindful of that state laws regarding marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships can change.

Source: USA Today, "U.S. judge strikes down Colorado gay marriage ban," Trevor Hughes, July 23, 2014