Same-Sex Marriage Issue Made It a Long, Hot Summer for Boulder Clerk Hillary Hall
For 35 days this summer, Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall made Colorado history when her office issued more than 200 same-sex marriage licenses. In doing so, she defied Colorado Attorney General John Suthers's threats of legal action. Late last month, after the Colorado Supreme Court issued a stay on same-sex marriage until it could review the case in late 2014, Hall's office once again limited marriage licenses to opposite-sex couples, and she left town for a much-needed vacation.
The 48-year-old Hall grew up in Boulder, did undergraduate work at the University of Northern Colorado, studied culinary arts in Oregon and worked as a chef in San Francisco. She has used her cooking skills to aid the Democratic Party and the Community Foundation's Open Door Fund, which offers grants to LGBTQ organizations. She served as chair of the Boulder County Democratic Party and was elected county clerk in 2006 and re-elected in 2010; she'll be running for a third term in November.
On the morning after she returned from vacation, Hall spoke with Westword about this summer's events.
See also: Clela Rorex Planted the Flag for Same-Sex Marriage in Boulder Forty Years Ago
Westword: You've had a heck of a few weeks.
Hillary Hall: It's been quite a few months. The day after we completed conducting the primary election, which my office is also responsible for, the 10th Circuit came out with its ruling in the Kitchen v. Herbert case. With that, we reviewed it with our county attorneys and felt that it was enough for us to go ahead and issue licenses. On June 25, we began issuing licenses to any couple that was requesting one.
Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall.
When you started that process, what did it feel like? What was going through your head?
When we started, we took it that this was someone's fundamental right. Being the person who ensures you can have that fundamental right of marriage, it was a moment of both responsibility and happiness to be able to have enough law to allow us to issue a marriage license to anyone who loves another person. It instantly went from that to "How do we implement this?"
Talk about that implementation process. What were the specifics you had to go through to get things in order so quickly?
We knew the 10th Circuit case was coming, so we had already prepped people and talked through what this would look like, what we would need to do, what forms we would use and those sorts of logistical things. We couldn't change the form, because the statute was quite clear about using a form approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. It said "bride-and-groom." It had that sort of language in there.
So we debated whether to use our own form or not. We didn't want to draw anything more into question, so we reached out to the department and asked them if they would approve our suggested form, and they told us no. [Laughs.] So then we went forward and used their form. We explained it to the couples and let them decide how to handle it.
There were some really great one-liners from different people as they were making the decision. The one that sticks out for me was when one of the women said, "Well, I want to be the groom because I always wanted to marry a woman." I thought that was a great line.
Those were some of the logistics. The other part was not knowing how many people would show up. It's still a marriage, right? Even if you've been thinking about it, it's a commitment -- and everyone takes the commitment of wanting to be married very seriously.
We started out steady and stayed steady. We weren't sure if we'd have five or a hundred the first day. So we did the math to figure our maximum. How do you make sure you have a plan in place? Logistically, you can only do so many an hour. We figured that out and how to have a backup plan should that occur. Everyone was a little relieved when it was a very manageable wait.
What were those first marriages like? What was the climate?
It was amazing, just the atmosphere and the joy that comes with marriage to begin with, and then the added joy of people feeling recognized. The equality and justice of it also came through. The amount of that emotion was so contagious and overwhelming, and drove home what allowing everyone who loves one another to marry means.
Talk about some of the conversations you had with the couples.
We would hear their stories. Some people had been in a civil union and committed relationship, and this was the next step for them. Some people had been thinking about getting engaged and what that would mean, and this would allow them to move forward with it. It was a range of types and ages and relationships. It was a spectrum.
Some came in and were very quiet about the moment, but you could still feel how deep it was for them. Then you had others, of course, that brought a singing chorus with them. The range was just -- like all marriages -- the range of how people choose to celebrate their union.
You have the option in Colorado where you can marry yourself, or you can have a civil service, or you can have a religious service. You can take the certificate with you, or you can go ahead and get married right here at the office. We had that full range as well. We had some who wanted to go ahead and have a more formal ceremony.
The first few days, a volunteer nondenominational minister was on hand. People would go outside and have a small ceremony and come back in and record their document. And we had some who got married right there in the Clerk and Recorder's office, at the counter, while they were filling out the paperwork.
The range of experiences was incredible. We had some really quiet ones. We had Senator [Jessie] Ulibarri come in and get married. He came in with a full load of supporters. It was a very joyous and full few weeks. And that continued.
Do you have a sense of why people were getting married?
It was the full range. They wanted all of the equal protections that marriage allows couples and, underneath all that, to have the same rights as everyone else. There are so many things that are woven into the advantages of being married. As a married couple, my husband and I were having this conversation; you're not even aware of them, from the taxes to the way you relate to the schools and your children. They are so much a part of how we operate that I can't even pull them out, because for me, they're the norm. When you are denied those things because you can't be legally married, you're very aware of them.
One guy told me a story that seems so mundane but is something that I'd never have thought of. He had a company where he could get benefits for his partner, but if you were married, those were pre-tax dollars, and if you weren't married, those were post-tax dollars. It's more about: Why should that be any different? Hearing all those stories was a very eye-opening experience.
Keep reading for more from Hillary Hall.