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OPINION: John Suthers’ Transparent Ambition

Our Attorney General claims he's just doing his job. The truth is, he probably has his eye on another one.

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Colorado Attorney General John Suthers likes to portray himself as a humble public servant, loyally and faithfully defending all of Colorado’s laws regardless of whether he personally agrees with them—he’s not shy about pointing out which ones he doesn’t—and he claims to do all this to honor and protect the constitutions of our state and the nation.

This ostensibly explains why he’s been feverishly trying to preserve Colorado’s existing ban on gay marriage, despite the fact that public opinion in Colorado, and throughout the country, has been steadily moving toward a pro-gay marriage stance over the past several years. And that as of this week, 29 consecutive judicial rulings in the past year have declared anti-gay marriage laws unconstitutional in 15 states (and counting).

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What enables Suthers and other like-minded AGs to continue this discriminatory crusade is an appeals process that has issued stays of prior decisions or kicked them to a higher court; an appeals court in Cincinnati is hearing one such appeal this week regarding laws in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee, and the issue is expected to land in the U.S. Supreme Court sometime next year.

Again, Suthers will tell you that he’s only doing his job; he even explained this at length in an op-ed column that ran in the Washington Post in February. But here’s the thing: AGs are reasonably free to pick and choose which laws to prioritize. It doesn’t mean they can ignore them entirely, but they can move them down the list so they can more efficiently focus their prosecutorial resources elsewhere. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, in cooperation with the Obama administration, did just that in 2011 in deciding to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which is what opened the door to this latest round of challenges against state anti-gay laws.

Holder’s office also took a similar approach with medical and recreational marijuana; when enough states started legalizing it, his office announced that it wouldn’t pursue prosecutions against companies and people who were in compliance with the new state laws as long as they weren’t flouting existing federal bans.

(In a revealing contradiction to his claims about protecting Colorado’s laws, in June Suthers declined to defend a man who was fired by Dish Network for using marijuana during his off hours. The man doesn’t install satellite dishes or perform any tasks that might impact safety; he’s a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic who uses the drug at home—as is now his constitutional right—for pain management. He wasn’t terminated for any on-the-job performance issues and in fact, the company acknowledged that he wasn’t high at work; Dish fired him simply because he violated its zero-tolerance drug policy. The twisted logic Suthers used to support his decision to back Dish may be legally tenable—the case is likely to end up in the state Supreme Court—but it utterly lacks compassion, not to mention a basic sense of humanity.)

Note to Suthers and all his quixotic cohorts: Gay marriage and marijuana legalization are coming, and there’s nothing you can do to thwart it, so you might as well evolve along with the rest of us. It’s here. It’s clear. Get used to it.

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Or, you can shutter yourself up in some conservative cocoon and live out the rest of your days free from such nefarious influences as taxes, government regulations, and people who don’t look, behave, or believe the same way you do. In fact, maybe you’ll even think about running for mayor of said cocoon.

And just like that, it all makes sense.

Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.

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