By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - A state judge struck down Colorado's gay marriage ban on Wednesday, saying the prohibition violated constitutional rights, but put his ruling on hold pending appeal.
It was the latest of several decisions by state and federal judges to strike down state bans on same-sex nuptials and then stay their rulings pending challenges to higher courts.
Adams County District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree said in his decision that Colorado's prohibition, approved by voters in 2006, conflicted with the fundamental right to marry.
"The Court rejects the State's attempt to too narrowly describe the marital right at issue to the right to marry a person of the same sex," Crabtree wrote.
There are 19 states, plus the District of Columbia, where same-sex marriage is now legal. Several other same-sex marriage lawsuits are moving toward the U.S. Supreme Court.
Two other lawsuits, testing bans in Oklahoma and Virginia, have already been heard by appeals courts.
The attorney general of neighboring Utah said on Wednesday he would appeal directly to the Supreme Court a ruling by a federal appeals court last month that backed gay marriage in the conservative, largely Mormon state.
Responding to Crabtree's ruling, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said it reaffirmed the fact that the fate of the state's same-sex marriage law now rested with the Supreme Court.
"Judge Crabtree provides additional clarity that until the high court rules on the issue of same-sex marriage, Colorado’s current laws remain in place," Suthers, a Republican, said in a statement.
"Adherence to the rule of law will bring about the final resolution with the greatest certainty and legal legitimacy," Suthers added.
He has sued the elected county clerk in Boulder, Colorado, after she issued more than 100 marriage licenses to gay couples following the ruling on Utah by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Wednesday, Boulder County District Court Judge Andrew Hartman held a hearing in the case in which an attorney for the state accused the clerk, Hillary Hall, of flouting the law.
Assistant Solicitor General Michael Francisco said the state's 63 other county clerks had abided by the appellate court's ruling putting its decision on hold.
"Clerk Hall is the only outlier," he said.
Hall testified briefly, repeating her stance that she could not deny same-sex couples their fundamental right to marry.
Three lesbians also described the difficulties gay couples face in Colorado because of the ban, including in areas such as making medical decisions for partners, getting approval to adopt children, and being denied federal benefits.
The question of whether the licenses issued by Hall are valid will be litigated separately.
Outside the building, gay marriage supporters waved signs reading: "Legalize Love" and "Support Equality."
Hartman said he would rule on the issue "very shortly," but gave no indication when that might be.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney)