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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 23 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 34
New Mexico county issues same-sex marriage licenses
Section One
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New Mexico county issues same-sex marriage licenses

Doña Ana official asserts state marriage law is 'gender-neutral'

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

New Mexico's Doña Ana County began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples August 21.

County Clerk Lynn Ellins said the decision to grant the licenses was based on a legal opinion issued earlier this year by the city of Santa Fe and a recent filing by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King.

'I am mindful that I took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the state of New Mexico as Doña Ana county clerk,' Ellins told the Las Cruces Sun-News.

'I am an attorney, and I have read the AG's opinion, and I find it to be sound. After careful review of New Mexico's laws it is clear that the state's marriage statutes are gender-neutral and do not expressly prohibit Doña Ana County from issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Any further denial of marriage licenses to these couples violates the United States and New Mexico Constitution and the New Mexico Human Rights Act. Doña Ana County is upholding New Mexico law by issuing these marriage licenses, and I see no reason to make committed couples in Doña Ana County wait another minute to marry.' Ellins began issuing the documents at 8 a.m. Mountain time.

On July 22, King said he would not oppose a suit by a Santa Fe Gay couple, Alex Hanna and Von Hudson, who are seeking a marriage license.

'New Mexico's guarantee of equal protection to its citizens demands that same-sex couples be permitted to enjoy the benefits of marriage in the same way and to the same extent as other New Mexico citizens,' King wrote in his filing.

GENDERLESS FORMS
In June, King's office issued a nonbinding legal analysis claiming that New Mexico law does not allow same-sex marriages, but adding that the law was vulnerable to a constitutional challenge. The state's constitutional definition of marriage does not refer to gender at all, but marriage license applications used by county clerks have spaces to list 'bride' and 'groom.'

Ellins issued licenses in the same format but without gender-specific references.

In April, Santa Fe passed a resolution outlining the case for same-sex marriages to be recognized under current state law. The resolution acknowledged that New Mexico law recognizes marriage as a contract between two gender- neutral parties and that the state's Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on sex.

'We couldn't be happier for the couples in Doña Ana County - and those across the state who will soon, no doubt, make their way there,' said Patrick Davis of Progress Now New Mexico. 'They have waited far too long for public sentiment and political courage to evolve far enough to publicly acknowledge their relationships as being just as equal as that of their neighbors.'

Progress Now New Mexico describes itself as 'a progressive advocacy group working to advance marriage equality in New Mexico.'

The New Mexico Supreme Court has declined to hear the Santa Fe suit and a similar one brought by couples in Albuquerque, saying they must first be heard by district courts. Doña Ana County, located just north of the Mexican border, is home to slightly more than 200,000 residents.

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