Photo: Gay Marriage New Mexico
A third county in New Mexico will allow same-sex couples to marry, the result of a state judge’s ruling Monday that any prohibition of gay marriage in the state is “unconstitutional and unenforceable.”
The ruling came almost a week after one county said it would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, citing the fact that New Mexico has no law explicitly allowing or banning gay marriage. The state’s Democratic attorney general said he wouldn’t challenge that move, and on Friday another state judge ordered officials in Santa Fe County to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Taken together, the events in the three counties – in Bernalillo, which includes Albuquerque, and Santa Fe, which includes the city of Santa Fe, and Dona Ana – mean same-sex marriage has been effectively legal in the state for nearly a week. Because couples in New Mexico don’t have to apply for a marriage license in the county in which they live, many have traveled to areas where the licenses are being issued and have gotten married there. Some couples have even come from Texas, where gay marriage is banned, to get married.
More than 200 couples have gotten licenses so far, and nothing is legally stopping other counties from also issuing licenses, although many have said they won’t or are unsure whether they should. Opponents, including Republican state lawmakers, have pledged to file suit to stop local officials, but so far no action has been taken.
The developments Friday and Monday are in some ways more significant than the decision last Wednesday by the Dona Ana County Clerk’s office to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses. That was based on the clerk’s judgment that state law didn’t forbid him from issuing them. But even Attorney General Gary King, in announcing he wouldn’t oppose the move, said it left the county and any married couples in a legally precarious situation without the backing of a court ruling.
Same-sex couples gaining marriage licenses in Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties, meanwhile, came as the result of a pair of court rulings that found no prohibition in state law on couples being allowed to marry, decisions that reflected the original county clerk’s judgment.
The week’s developments are just the latest in a tangled history of the gay marriage debate in New Mexico, and the lack of court rulings on the issue has left the matter up for debate for years. The state is the only one in the U.S. without a law that bans or allows same-sex marriage or civil unions and the state’s marriage statutes are seen as gender neutral.