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Colorado appeals court denies bid to block gay marriages in Boulder County

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) - A Colorado appeals court on Thursday denied a motion by the state's top lawyer seeking to block a county clerk from issuing same-sex marriage licenses until the long-running legal battle is resolved by higher courts.

In its ruling, the Colorado Court of Appeals said Attorney General John Suthers had not "established the factors required" for it to reverse a lower court's decision allowing a county clerk to issue licenses to gay couples.

The decision by the three-judge appeals court panel comes after judges at the state and federal level have both ruled Colorado's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, but stayed their decisions pending challenges to higher courts.

The ruling is the latest twist in a legal spat between Suthers, a Republican, and Hillary Hall, the clerk in Democratic-leaning Boulder County. It comes amid a broader debate in other counties and U.S. states over gay marriage.

Hall began giving out permits after a U.S. federal appeals court ruling in late June that found in favor of gay marriage in conservative neighboring Utah. She has so far issued more than 180 such licenses.

Suthers sued Hall to stop the practice, but Boulder County District Court Judge Andrew Hartman has twice refused to force Hall to cease, noting his decision was part of a "fast-moving legal environment" nationwide.

Suthers filed an emergency motion to the court of appeals on Wednesday.

Suthers has acknowledged that the ban will likely be overturned at some point but, until higher courts rule, the ban remains in effect and the marriage licenses are invalid.

He has argued the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling last week that the clerk in Denver County stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples pending the resolution of an appeal should apply to Boulder County as well.

"Hopefully this means that the Attorney General will respect the appellate court's decision rather than filing more motions or appeals," Hall said.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver, Colorado; Writing by Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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