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County Clerk in New Mexico Began Issuing Marriage Licenses to Gay Couples Today!
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County Clerk in New Mexico Issues Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples
By HEATH HAUSSAMEN and FERNANDA SANTOS
Published: August 21, 2013
LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Saying he was upholding New Mexico’s Constitution — amended four decades ago to guarantee equal rights to all — a county clerk here began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Wednesday, magnifying a fight that could become one of the key issues in next year’s elections for governor.
Mark Holm for The New York Times
Russell Contreras/Associated Press
The clerk, Lynn Ellins, said he had exhausted his patience waiting for the courts to resolve the ambiguity between the state’s definition of marriage, which makes no mention of gender, and the marriage applications used by county clerks, which require couples to list their names under “bride” and “groom.” The issue was central to the lawsuits filed by same-sex couples in Albuquerque in March, and by Alexander Hanna and his partner, Yon Hudson, in Santa Fe in June.
“If the court tells me to stop, I’ll stop,” Mr. Ellins said. “But until that happens, we’re open for business.”
Mr. Ellis is the clerk of Doña Ana County, the political stronghold of Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, who has repeatedly expressed her opposition to same-sex marriage.
Proponents are banking on the outcome of the court cases, pending before separate district courts, and on a statement by Gary King, the state’s attorney general, in June saying the statutory framework that precludes same-sex marriage would be “vulnerable to challenge.”
During a news conference in Albuquerque on Wednesday, Mr. King, a leading Democratic contender for governor, said he would not challenge Mr. Ellins or any other county clerk who decides to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He warned, however, that the licenses could be invalidated if the New Mexico Supreme Court eventually rules that same-sex marriage is not allowed in the state.
In a terse decision last week, the state court denied a request on behalf of Mr. Hanna and Mr. Hudson to rule on the issue, a calculated maneuver the couple hoped would have allowed them to sidestep the lower courts and force a quicker resolution of the matter.
On Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, two of the groups leading the push for the legalization of same-sex marriage across the country, increased the pressure. They filed an emergency request before the state’s Second Judicial District Court, asking to permit a woman with terminal cancer, Jen Roper, to marry her longtime partner, Angelique Neuman, immediately so that Ms. Neuman and their three adopted children would be legally protected once Ms. Roper died.
“Because of my illness, we do not have the luxury of waiting years for the courts to decide whether loving, committed same-sex couples can marry in New Mexico,” Ms. Roper said in a statement. “For us, the time is now.”
There are also signs that the political tide may be shifting. Despite her long-professed opposition to same-sex marriage, Governor Martinez has softened her stance, saying voters should be the ones to decide whether to legalize it in New Mexico — “not a court, not politicians in Santa Fe, and not one random county clerk,” as her spokesman, Enrique Knell, put it in a statement on Wednesday.
Polls have indicated that the electorate is divided, though, with much of the resistance grounded in the strong Roman Catholic vein that runs through the state.
At the Doña Ana County clerk’s office on Wednesday, staff members were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples at a rate of four an hour, a record for an office that generally grants five marriage licenses a day. The deputy clerk, Mario O. Jimenez, said the phone had been “ringing nonstop,” as couples from as far away as Lubbock, Tex., 350 miles to the east, called to tell they were on their way.
Carrie Hamblen, 45, and her partner of seven years, Char Ullman, 51, arrived early, fearing that protesters or perhaps a court injunction might frustrate their marriage plans. Instead, said Ms. Hamblen, the chairwoman of the board of directors for Southern New Mexico Pride, they were greeted by cheers from county employees.
Sarah Finke, 48, heard about the marriage licenses from a colleague at the elementary school where she works. During a fire drill, she called her partner of 10 years, Heather Oesterreich, also 48.
The women had decided long ago not to travel to another state to get married. Their pastor, Linda Mervine of the First Christian Church, married them under a palm tree in front of the county building here. Micah, their 6-year-old son, looked on approvingly.
“This is our state,” said Ms. Oesterreich. “We have wonderful family and friends, and a God and our church that we wanted to witness this.”
Doña Ana County became the first county in New Mexico to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples since 2004, when a clerk in Sandoval County issued 64 licenses, only to have them invalidated by the state’s attorney general at the time, Patricia A. Madrid.