New Mexico’s Supreme Court Justices unanimously ruled Thursday that marriage between same-sex partners is legal in the state.
The court said:
“We hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law.”
New Mexico joins 16 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing same-sex marriage.
A Republican state senator reportedly has vowed to propose a constitutional amendment to declare that marriage in New Mexico is only between opposite-sex partners. Such an amendment would need to pass both houses of the Legislature and a statewide vote to be enacted. Gov. Susana Martinez has said she also believes marriage should be reserved for opposite-sex couples and that the issue should face a popular vote.
The question came to a boil last summer when Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Himself a lawyer, Ellins contended that there was nothing in New Mexico law to preclude same-sex marriage.
Other county clerks — some facing district court orders, some emboldened by Ellins’ lead — followed suit. Clerks statewide then asked the high court to clarify the matter.
Actually, the court ruled, New Mexico did have a statutory ban on same-sex marriage but that ban was illegal under the constitution.
“Having declared the New Mexico marriage laws unconstitutional, we now determine the appropriate remedy. We decline to strike down our marriage laws because doing so would be wholly inconsistent with the historical legislative commitment to fostering stable families through these marriage laws. Instead, “civil marriage” shall be construed to mean the voluntary union of two persons to the exclusion of all others. In addition, all rights, protections, and responsibilities that result from the marital relationship shall apply equally to both same-gender and opposite-gender married couples. Therefore, whether they are contained in NMSA 1978, Chapter 40 or any other New Mexico statutes, rules, regulations or the common law, whenever reference is made to marriage, husband, wife, spouse, family, immediate family, dependent, next of kin, widow, widower or any other word, which, in context, denotes a marital relationship, the same shall apply to same-gender couples who choose to marry.”
The Human Rights Campaign, a national organization dedicated to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality, issued a statement praising the decision and adding a word of caution to its supporters.
“Today we won; thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of New Mexico, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the law firm of Sutin, Thayer & Browne.
“While we celebrate today, we know our opponents in the state legislature are gearing up to introduce a bill to take these rights away. HRC, a proud founding member of the New Mexico Unites for Marriage coalition, is on the ground working alongside coalition partners, including Equality New Mexico, to protect this victory.”