When love and law collided at the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder's Office on Thursday, love appeared to be winning.
At least for now.
For the second day, Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall continued to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples — two on Wednesday and 17 on Thursday by midmorning. She did so in the wake of a new federal appeals court ruling endorsing the constitutionality of same-sex marriage despite a court order to delay any such marriages while the case is appealed. She also did so in defiance of the warning from Colorado Atty. Gen. John Suthers that the licenses she issued were invalid.
It was hard to miss the stubbornness in her voice when she declared Thursday that she was not about to quit: "I would need a Colorado court or the U.S. Supreme Court to tell me to stop."
And as for Suthers' stern caution late Wednesday that she was acting outside the law, Hall shrugged it off, saying that she had consulted Boulder County's legal team and decided to go rogue.
"It's exciting. It's wonderful. It's long overdue, and the 10th Circuit Court made that clear," Hall said.
On Wednesday the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriage in a 2-1 vote, calling it a violation of the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection and due process. The verdict marked the first time a federal appeals court has ruled on same-sex marriage since the Supreme Court struck down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act a year ago Thursday.
Rulings from the appellate court are binding not only in Utah but also Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. Among those states, only New Mexico currently allows same-sex marriages.
But the jubilation some felt Wednesday was quickly replaced with worry as the court immediately issued a stay, putting on hold any marriages as it waits for the Supreme Court to take up the issue.
For others, though, there was no stopping matrimony.
When Hall arrived at work Thursday at 7:30 a.m., about half a dozen couples were already lined up at her door, waiting for her signature and the shiny gold seal on their long-awaited dream.
"Hillary Hall is a hero. She is on the right side of history. We are so, so grateful," said Nate George, 28, of Boulder, who arrived at the county building with Mark Reeves, his partner of six years.
The couple looked as nervous and flustered as any about to take the plunge, and their pace quickened as they neared the door. "Every second counts," Reeves called out to the cheers of those who already had their licenses.
Last year, the state passed the Colorado Civil Union Act, which gave same-sex couples legal protection. But for Ashley Fletcher, 33, of Denver and her partner, Amber Smith, 30, it felt like a secondhand measure that wasn't good enough. They wanted the genuine article.
"We tell people we have a civil union and they say: What's that? We tell them we are getting married and they say: Where's the party?" Fletcher said.
"People understand marriage. Kids understand marriage," Smith added.
Two of the women's three children (all from pervious relationships) waited outside, playing video games while their mothers got the license.
"Isn't it great? Probably the prettiest paper I ever did see," Fletcher said, posing for a picture with the document as the centerpiece.
She scoffed at the argument the state of Utah presented that same sex-marriage damaged children. "Our kids look pretty well-adjusted to me," Fletcher said.
The women are scheduled to marry July 7 in New Mexico. The children have been involved in the planning from the beginning.
"I have a tuxedo," said Zeke, 8.
"So do I," said Jacob, 6.
Boulder has a bit of history with such things. In 1975, another county clerk issued same-sex marriage licenses to a handful of couples, but they were ultimately ruled illegal.
"They are no more valid today than they were in 1975," an attorney general's spokeswoman told the Denver Post.
Donnie Herrington, 32 of Longmont, who was there with his partner, Justin Jones, 33, said he knew that the attorney general had challenged the validity of their license. He also knew that what he and Jones were about to do might only be symbolic.
"We're happy with symbolic," said Jones, his eyes filling with tears, his voice wavering. "It's not about who gets to tell you who you can love. It's about being able to love who you want to."
And with that, the two stood under a canopy of trees on the building's side yard and took each other's hands.
The Rev. Kristen Hepp, dressed in a long black robe, arrived at the clerk's office earlier to watch history being made. A minister with a nondenominational group called Colorado Commitments, she offered to marry the men on the spot. They jumped at the chance.
"Do you, Justin, choose to marry Donnie, to speak the promise that will bind you to him in love and devotion for the rest of your life?"
"I do," Jones replied softly. Herrington did too.
They fished rings out of their pockets, and then it was done. "I pronounce you legally married in the state of Colorado," Hepp said.
Maybe. Maybe not.
If their spontaneous ceremony doesn't hold up, they will do it again another time, at another place. But for now, he and his new husband were heading home for lunch.