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Topics In the News
New Mexico Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Marriage Equality
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 12/19/13
Last updated on: 12/19/13
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In a unanimous decision issued on December 19, 2013, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution requires same-sex couples be permitted to marry. The decision, authored by Justice Edward L. Chavez, extends marriage equality to the entire state. New Mexico joins 16 other states in which same-sex couples are (or will soon be) permitted to marry.

The ruling is the culmination of legal action that led to New Mexico becoming the epicenter of the American struggle for equal rights in August 2013.

During the third week of August, the New Mexico Supreme Court issued a major ruling upholding the state's nondiscrimination statute prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; a courageous Las Cruces clerk of court began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and the Attorney General announced that he would not oppose the action; and then, on August 22, a district judge ordered the clerk of court of Sante Fe County to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

When other county clerks began issuing marriage licenses, New Mexico achieved de facto marriage equality. Since New Mexico permits a marriage license obtained in one county to be used anywhere in the state, gay and lesbian couples could be married anywhere in the state, though only a minority of counties issued marriage licenses to them.

Because of the confusion the situation could cause with some county clerks issuing marriage licenses and others not doing so, the New Mexico Association of Counties joined an ongoing case, Griego v. Oliver, concerning marriage equality and requested that the Supreme Court clarify the constitutional obligations of county clerks and establish a state-wide policy.

In the decision issued on December 19, the Supreme Court rejected the arguments of those opposed to same-sex marriage that marriage should be reserved to heterosexual couples because of the government's interest in promoting "responsible procreation and child-rearing." The Court pointed out that procreation has never been a requirement for marriage and the depriving gay and lesbian couples, many of whom also raise children, of the right to marry does nothing to promote procreation and child-rearing among heterosexual couples.

The Court concluded that "although none of New Mexico's marriage statutes specifically prohibit same-gender marriages, when read as a whole, the statutes have the effect of precluding same-gender couples from marrying and benefitting from the rights, protections, and responsibilities that flow from a civil marriage. Same-gender couples who wish to enter into a civil marriage with another person of their choice and to the exclusion of all others are similarly situated to opposite-gender couples who want to do the same, yet they are treated differently."

Applying "intermediate scrutiny" because same-gender couples (whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, hereinafter "LGBT") are a discrete group which has been subjected to a history of discrimination and violence, and which has inadequate political power to protect itself from such treatment, the Court found that "New Mexico may neither constitutionally deny same-gender couples the right to marry nor deprive them of the rights, protections, and responsibilities of marriage laws."

The Court concluded, "Denying same-gender couples the right to marry and thus depriving them and their families of the rights, protections, and responsibilities of civil marriage violates the equality demanded by the Equal Protection Clause of the New Mexico Constitution."

Having declared the New Mexico marriage laws unconstitutional, the Court outlined its remedy. Declining to strike down the marriage laws because "doing so would be wholly inconsistent with the historical legislative commitment to fostering stable families," the Court ordered instead that "civil marriage shall be construed to mean the voluntary union of two persons to the exclusion of all others."

In addition, the Court ordered that "all rights, protections, and responsibilities that result from the marital relationship shall apply equally to both same-gender and opposite-gender married couples."

The decision cites, in addition to U.S. Supreme Court rulings such as Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas, the marriage equality rulings issued by the California, Connecticut, and Iowa Supreme Courts.

Especially gratifying are the Court's analyses of equal protection, heightened scrutiny, and the claims concerning "responsible procreation and child-rearing."

The ruling in Griego v. Oliver may be found here.

The decision is effective immediately. Beginning today, same-sex couples may obtain marriage licenses from every county in New Mexico.

In the video below, the breaking news from the Court is reported on Albuquerque television station KRQE

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