DENVER (AP) — Colorado will pick a new attorney general for the first time in 10 years — and nothing shows the distinction between the candidates like the legal journey of gay marriage in the state.
Democrat Don Quick, the former Adams County district attorney, has spent months criticizing how the issue was handled by the Colorado Attorney General's Office, where his Republican opponent Cynthia Coffman is chief deputy.
Quick's stance is that current Republican Attorney General John Suthers should have stopped defending the state's 2006 voter-approved gay marriage ban after several courts nationwide ruled such laws were unconstitutional.
Suthers maintained throughout the legal battles that until the U.S. Supreme Court issued guidance on the matter, it was his duty to defend Colorado's law, and he did so until the high court this month declined to hear appeals from several states seeking to ban gay marriage.
Coffman said she would've handled the matter like Suthers.
"That is probably the fundamental difference (between us), and it just happens to be that same-sex marriage is the issue that highlighted it," Coffman said. "What else are you not going to defend? Because once you say I'm going to pick and choose what laws to enforce, and what arguments to make, then you have left the parameters of the job and you have made it into a policy position — a policy-making position and a political position."
The way Quick sees it, the attorney general has an ethical obligation to challenge laws believed to be unconstitutional.
"When a state law targets a minority group, a specific group, and denies them a fundamental right, that's a violation of equal protection," said Quick, who was also the former top deputy under Democrat Ken Salazar when he was attorney general.
Suthers, who has served since 2005, is term-limited and not seeking re-election.
After the U.S. Supreme Court declined the gay-marriage appeals from states with bans, Quick cheered the decision and took a jab at his opponent.
"I'm disappointed that politics and the delay tactics from Attorney General Suthers and my opponent Cynthia Coffman have unconstitutionally denied the fundamental right of marriage to same-sex Coloradans for far too long," Quick said in a statement, referring to Suthers' attempts to halt marriage licenses to gay couples pending a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.
Quick touts his nearly three decades as a prosecutor as proof that he won't let politics influence his decisions.
"You make your decisions based on facts and evidence," Quick said about his prosecutorial experience. "They aren't political decisions."
Coffman, for her part, argues it's Quick who has been political during the gay marriage debate. She notes that while she disapproved of the gun-control laws Colorado legislators passed last year, her office defended the state in a lawsuit seeking to overturn them.
"This is where you have to set aside any feelings that you have," Coffman said.