GUEST COLUMN: Attorney General's job is to be an advocate for all Coloradans' rights
Recently in this paper, Cynthia Coffman, the chief deputy attorney general and my opponent in November's election for Colorado attorney general, attempted to defend her position of continuing the defense of Colorado's ban on same-sex marriage. Coffman implied that the reason her office is still defending Colorado's ban is that the Attorney General's Office is required to defend all Colorado laws, even if there are grave doubts about their constitutionality. That's not true, and Ms. Coffman knows it.
First, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously ruled in 2003 that it is the attorney general's job to challenge a law when there are concerns about its constitutionality. I remember it well, as I was chief deputy to Attorney General Ken Salazar when the court ruled in our favor. Coffman knows this also, as her office did the same thing last year. The Legislature passed a law restricting the display of marijuana-related magazines, and the Attorney General's Office refused to defend it because it believed it was unconstitutional.
So why would Coffman say that refusing to defend an unconstitutional law is a "dangerous idea" when her office has done it? Because she doesn't want to take responsibility for her office's actions. She wants people to believe that she has no choice but to defend the ban on same-sex marriage so she can't be held accountable for her decisions. That is the opposite of leadership.
Second, all 23 courts that have reviewed same-sex marriage bans have ruled that they are unconstitutional. In Colorado, Judge Crabtree joined the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver and 21 other courts across the country when he struck down Colorado's ban. Coffman's office tried to defend the law, but they lost. The judge went so far as to say that the arguments presented by Coffman's office to defend the ban were "recently fabricated."
Third, with the Colorado law struck down, Coffman no longer has to decide whether to defend Colorado's ban on same-sex marriage. Now the only question is whether Coffman's office will continue to appeal that decision and continue denying the fundamental rights of gay and lesbian Coloradans as long as possible.
The Attorney General's Office is not required to appeal every decision it loses. Each year, there are hundreds of cases in which the state loses in county or district court and chooses not to appeal. As district attorney, I worked with the attorney general's appellate team, and we often chose not to appeal a ruling when we thought it was not worth the resources, the impact on the parties involved, or concluded after legal analysis that the court's decision was right.
The responsibility for deciding to appeal Judge Crabtree's ruling lies solely with the Attorney General's Office. As much as Coffman would like to avoid accountability for her actions, there's no way to do it here. The Attorney General's Office could have chosen not to appeal the decision, and instead they chose to ignore 23 court decisions and continue the fight against marriage equality.
That choice has a real, harmful impact on people in Colorado. Coffman might prefer that gay and lesbian couples and their families remain second-class citizens until the Supreme Court tells her she has no choice but to recognize their fundamental rights. The problem is, that could take years, and a lot of damage will be done in the meantime.
Every day same-sex partners pass away without the opportunity to have their relationship honored by society. Every day same-sex couples are forced to have the painful talk with their children about why their government won't value their family like everyone else's.
Not once in Coffman's article did she recognize the people impacted by her office's decision. Not once did she acknowledge the true cost of continuing to deny the fundamental rights of thousands of Coloradans.
The attorney general's job is to be a champion of Coloradans' rights, not to search for an excuse to deny them. Coffman and her office were not forced to obstruct gay and lesbian Coloradans' fundamental rights, they chose to. If elected attorney general, I'll make a different choice.
Don Quick is the former district attorney for Adams and Broomfield counties and former chief deputy attorney general.