Attorney general race: Rivals differ on battle over gay marriage

Coffman, Quick seek post of state attorney general

Cynthia Coffman

Cynthia Coffman

Don Quick

Don Quick

Both Cynthia Coffman and Don Quick say their positions on how to handle gay-marriage court battles are in the best interest of same-sex couples who are seeking nuptials.

The two candidates for attorney general discussed gay marriage and other topics during recent, separate sit-down interviews with Colorado Community Media.

Coffman, a Republican deputy attorney general, and Quick, a Democrat and former Adams County district attorney, are locked in a key down-ticket race.

Coffman, who is married to U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, touts her experience in state government and knowledge of office operations as reasons for voters to support her candidacy.

For his part, Quick, a Wheat Ridge native, boasts of his record as Adams County DA, including his prosecution of government corruption among officials there.

The race is one of the most closely watched attorney general’s races in the country, with millions of campaign dollars having come in from outside donors.

But, all of that aside, the race could come down to gay marriage.

“There is no constitutional defense for treating gay and lesbian couples differently,” Quick said. “There are no second-class citizens.”

But Coffman said Quick’s personal feelings about gay marriage have nothing to do with the role the attorney general plays in this issue.

“I have a personal opinion about the issue, which I’m not going to share because to me, my personal opinion doesn’t matter,” she said.

Current Attorney General John Suthers, a Republican who is term-limited, has defended the state’s 2006 gay marriage ban in court battles that reached new heights over the summer.

In June, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals — which has jurisdiction over Colorado cases — ruled Utah’s gay marriage ban to be unconstitutional. However, the court stayed its decision, knowing that the case would ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.

The court’s stay didn’t stop the county clerk in Boulder from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Shortly thereafter, a state district court judge in Adams County ruled in a separate case that Colorado’s gay marriage ban is also unconstitutional. That judge also issued a stay in the decision.

Despite calls from gay lawmakers and Gov. John Hickenlooper not to appeal the Adams County ruling, Suthers has taken the case to the Colorado Supreme Court.

And, along the way, Suthers has waged a court battle with the Boulder County Clerk’s Office in an effort to stop it from issuing more same-sex marriage licenses.

Most recently, Suthers led a group of 17 attorneys general asking the Supreme Court to take up arguments on same-sex marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma.

Suthers’ approach scrutinized

Critics have said Suthers is delaying the inevitability of gay marriage.

But Coffman believes her boss is doing the right thing — and that she would follow his path on his handling of this issue.

Coffman said Suthers’ recent filing with the Supreme Court will end up fast-tracking the case toward a quicker resolution.

When asked if one could make the argument that Suthers’ handling of the case is actually in the best interest of gay couples, because it could get the issue to the Supreme Court more quickly, Coffman said, “Yes, absolutely. I believe that.”

But Quick doesn’t see how continuing to fight against gay marriage in court is helping same-sex couples realize their dreams of marriage equality.

“I think for a large segment of society, not just gay and lesbian couples, but for people who have family members that are gay and lesbian couples,” it means they have to wait even longer, he said.

Quick dismisses arguments against gay marriage that have nothing to do with the Constitution, especially those that cite procreation as a reason to prevent gays from getting married.

“John Suthers hasn’t procreated in 30 years and I haven’t in over 20 years, but somehow I think our wives both think our marriages have value and they’re important,” Quick said.

But Coffman said that perhaps Quick doesn’t understand that the role of the Attorney General’s Office is to defend the state’s laws, regardless of whether he likes them.

“(U.S. Attorney General) Eric Holder has been the poster child of picking and choosing what laws to defend,” she said. “I think he has violated his oath to defend the Constitution of the United States by picking and choosing. And to me, what Don is suggesting is the same thing: `I’m going to decide what is constitutional or not.’”

Coffman said Quick forgets that Suthers took heat from conservative groups when his office filed a discrimination complaint against a Lakewood baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.

Suthers’ office also defended the state’s recent Democrat-sponsored gun-control laws in a court battle this year.

Quick has also been critical of Suthers for joining several other attorneys general in opposing the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate — the “Hobby Lobby” case that succeeded at the Supreme Court.

Quick said he “strongly believes that a woman should make her health care decisions.” But Coffman finds those arguments offensive.

“We have birth control available to women, abortion is available, and to consistently try to be deceptive and inflame women on those issues, I just think it’s politics. It’s irresponsible,” Coffman said.

But Quick thinks that Coffman is the one who doesn’t have a grip on what the job of attorney general is all about. He believes that an attorney general has a duty to challenge a law if he or she “has grave doubts about constitutionality of the law.”

“I’ll defend laws whether I agree or disagree, but if there is an intentional targeting of a group denying them a fundamental right, then I will not defend that law,” he said.

Source: Colorado Community Media: Election 2014, “Attorney general race: Rivals differ on battle over gay marriage,” by Vic Vela, Posted 9/15/2014

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