Jerry Kopel


The recent story in the Rocky Mountain News about couples getting married and almost always paying a gratuity to judges who perform the ceremony, wasn't really news. If you could check the newspaper files of five or ten years ago, you would find almost the same story. Like Casablanca's Claude Raines learning Humphrey Bogart ran a gambling establishment, the RMN was shocked, shocked to discover that some judges keep the gratuities.

The real story is that couples who don't want a religious ceremony, don't have to pay a judge or other public official in order to get married. They have had an alternative ever since 1993.

That year the law was changed, pushed in part by the Colorado's county clerks and recorders, and carried by Rep. Mary Blue, D-Longmont, and Sen. Bob Schaffer, R-Ft. Collins. It was just a single paragraph in a much larger bill dealing with other items of interest to county clerks and recorders.

The law is CRS 14-2-109. The key sentence reads, with emphasis added by me: "A marriage may be solemnized by a judge of a court, by a court magistrate, by a public official whose powers include solemnization of marriages, BY THE PARTIES TO A MARRIAGE, or in accordance with any mode of solemnization recognized by any religious denomination or Indian nation or tribe."

The couple get a marriage application, fill it in, get a license to marry and marriage certificate form. You fill in and sign the certificate and return it to the county clerk and recorder within sixty days after the marriage. The couple can make their own vows, and have the ceremony wherever they want. All the state cares is that the bureaucratic procedures are rigidly followed and the forms are properly filled in.

Sometimes, a couple will choose to be married before a judge because the judge is a friend, or because the dispensing of "law" is an important part of their life. For example, Dolores and I were married 46 years ago, by the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, in the large room in the state capitol that once housed the State Supreme Court.

We didn't just "walk in and get married". We had an interview with the Chief Justice, I suppose so he could decide whether he wanted to perform the ceremony. We returned June 16th for the wedding. And you don't give money to the Chief Justice. We bought an expensive fountain pen and presented it to him directly as a gratuity.

The place and the ceremony became part of our future lives. We both were sworn in as lawyers, in different years, in the same room where we were wed. And as a legislator, I spent a lot more time in that room after the court moved out, in House committee hearings. And whenever I pass by, I know that on the left side of the room, down close to the-then Chief Justice's chambers, is where we stood and became husband and wife.

* * *

They are called vivisectionists. They perform vivisection, which is defined as surgical experiments in laboratories on live animals for the advancement of medical knowledge. Growing up in Baltimore, I was subjected once a week by the Hearst publication, (I believe it was the Baltimore American) to a full page of mutilated dogs on the last page of the front section. Publisher Hearst was visibly anti-vivisection.

The Rocky Mountain News story about Colorado State University's "practice surgeries" on greyhounds they had no right to use, was definitely a new story, and one that has apparently resulted in CSU discarding that portion of its education program for veterinary students. While "practice surgeries" might not qualify literally as "vivisection", the result is the same for the dogs.

Colorado already has a law dealing with nonprofit private or publicly owned "shelters or pounds" on this subject. It is CRS 35-42.5-101 and the law sets out provisions the facility must obey before providing dogs or cats for use in medical or "other kind of experimentation."

Pounds and shelters are not permitted to "red tag" which means isolating the animals so they won't be adopted and will go to research animal buyers. And the pound or shelter must notify the owner relinquishing a dog or cat that the animal will end up used for medical or other kind of experimentation. That term includes "any research, testing or the use of an animal for the training of students or medical personnel." The penalty for violation is a Class One Misdemeanor.

The law, SB 135, was sponsored by Sen. Ray Peterson, D-Denver and Rep. Jeanne Adkins, R-Parker, in 1990. The measure is rather vivid in memory because of many letters and phone calls from physicians in my Denver House district who were involved in vivisection. But the arguments in favor of the measure were enough to convince me to join as a co-sponsor. And maybe the pictures in the Hearst newspaper were also a factor.

It would be easy for the legislature to amend this law in 1999 to include profit making kennels or trainers. And since many voters in Colorado own dogs, that becomes a good issue for candidates running for the legislature. Or the Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act, CRS 35-80-101, up for Sunset review in 1999 and repeal or continuation in 2000 could be amended to provide the protections needed.

Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years

past experience as a state legislator.

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