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Topics In the News
New Mexico's Three Largest Counties Now Issuing Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 08/27/13
Last updated on: 08/28/13
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Plaintiffs Cecilia Taulbee (left) and Monica Leaming.

As a result of an Albuquerque judge's ruling on August 26, 2013, New Mexico's three largest counties, comprising about half of the state's population, are now issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In addition, on August 27, two additional county clerks announced that they also would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and on August 28, the clerk of yet another county, acting under court order, joined their ranks, bringing the total to 6 counties where gay and lesbian couples may receive licenses in the state. Since marriage licenses received in any New Mexico county may be used state-wide, the Land of Enchantment has effectively become the 14th U.S. state to achieve marriage equality.

In a decision that came down late on August 26, Judge Alan Malott ruled it unconstitutional to ban same-sex couples from getting married in Bernalillo County, the state's most populous, reports KOAT TV in Albuquerque.

"Gay and lesbian citizens of New Mexico have endured a long history of discrimination. Denial of the right to marry continues this unfortunate and intolerable pattern," Malott said during his ruling.

He ordered the clerks of both Bernalillo and Santa Fe Counties to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.

"There is no benefit to the parties or the public interest in having this matter progress through a lengthy path of litigation while basic constitutional rights are being compromised or denied on a daily basis," he said.

Judge Malott's ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of three lesbian couples who said the state constitution has no explicit ban on marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Bernalillo County began issuing licenses to gay couples at 8 a.m. on August 27. In anticipation of a possible order, the county clerk had already printed out 1,000 marriage licenses that say "spouse" rather than "husband" and "wife."

More than 100 people were lined up in Albuquerque as the clerk in New Mexico's most populous county began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The clerk opened her office to the excited crowd at 8 a.m., and a mass wedding was planned at noon in Albuquerque's Civic Plaza. Patricia Catlett, a 61-year-old graphic designer from Albuquerque, and her partner of 25 years, Karen Schmiege, a 69-year-old retired librarian, were the first to get their license in Bernalillo County. "I am so excited, I can't stand it," Schmiege said as they signed their papers.

Santa Fe County began issuing licenses to same-sex couples on August 24 after another judge ordered the county clerk to do so. Since then gay and lesbian couples, some who have been together for decades, have flooded the clerk's office to apply for the licenses. Many of the couples who received licenses in Santa Fe have already married.

Among the couples who married immediately after receiving their license was Jen Roper and Angelique Neuman. Roper, who is suffering from a life-threatening form of brain cancer, and Neuman were wed in a brief ceremony at Christus St. Vincent Regional Cancer Center, where Roper is hospitalized.

"I cried a lot," Roper told news station KOAT. "But I was so privileged at being able to be officially and completely recognized as her wife. . . . I feel extremely privileged over the support that we're getting."

On August 19, Lynn Ellins, County Clerk of Doña Ana County, announced that his office had begun issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Soon after his announcement, the first couple to receive a marriage license wed on the lawn of the county government center in Las Cruces. Since then about 100 other same-sex couples have flocked to the university city in the southern part of the state to receive marriage licenses.

Attorney General Gary King, who had earlier issued an opinion that New Mexico's marriage law was likely unconstitutional, announced that he had no plans to attempt to stop County Clerk Ellins from issuing the licenses, though he cautioned that the question had not yet been decided by the New Mexico Supreme Court, which recently declined to issue a ruling sought by attorneys for same-gender couples seeking marriage licenses from the county clerks in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties. Instead, the Supreme Court sent these matters back to the lower courts for an initial review on the merits, but said that the plaintiffs could ask for an expedited consideration.

On August 22, New Mexico District Judge Sarah Singleton ordered Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The order came as a result of a lawsuit filed by two Santa Fe men.

On August 27, Valencia County and San Miguel County became the fourth and fifth in the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

San Miguel County Clerk Melanie Rivera announced that she will have available new gender neutral marriage licenses later this week, but that couples who do not want to wait can receive a license today: until the new licenses arrive Rivera will make the changes to the old forms by hand.

Similarly Valencia County Clerk Peggy Carabajal said she should have gender-neutral licenses ready by August 28, but that she is willing to alter licenses if people want to get married on August 27th.

Taos County joined the ranks of counties offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples on August 28, following an order by 8th Judicial District Judge Jeff McElroy on August 27. County Clerk Anna Martinez told TaosUnfiltered.com that her office will begin issuing licenses at 8:00 a.m. Wednesday, August 28.

Republican members of the New Mexico legislature have vowed to file suit, presumably with the New Mexico Supreme Court, to attempt to stop the issuance of marriage licenses, but it is unclear what legal strategy they will employ.

In the following video, two of the plaintiffs in the Bernallilo County case, Monica Leaming and Cecilia Taulbee of Farmington, New Mexico, are interviewed.

The following clip reports on the marriage of Jen Roper and Angelique Neuman.

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