An Albuquerque judge on Monday ordered the clerk of New Mexico’s most populous county to join two other counties in the state in issuing marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples.
State District Judge Alan Malott ruled that New Mexico’s constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The decision came in a case involving a lesbian couple who sought an emergency ruling because one of them is dying and they wanted to make certain the state would recognize their marriage, which happened last week in Santa Fe.
The Bernalillo County clerk’s office in Albuquerque plans to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples at 8 a.m. today.
Laura Schauer Ives, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, called it a “monumental ruling” and said the group didn’t expect such a broad decision by the judge.
“We were stunned and amazed,” she said.
However, it’s uncertain whether clerks in the state’s 30 other counties, who were not defendants in the lawsuit, would use the judge’s ruling as a signal that they can issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The state was a defendant in the case.
The lesbian couple was able to get married Friday at a Santa Fe hospital after a judge in a separate case ordered the Santa Fe County clerk to issue same-sex licenses. The clerk of Dona Ana County in southern New Mexico decided on his own early last week to recognize same-sex marriage.
The hearing Monday originally was scheduled on an emergency request to force Bernalillo County to issue a marriage license to Jen Roper, who is dying of cancer, and Angelique Neuman because of Roper’s cancer. However, that changed after the two unexpectedly were able to wed.
“It’s been a long, long fight,” Neuman said. “I’m glad things went our way.”
The couple last week joined a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of five other lesbian couples.
One of those couples, Tanya Struble and Therese Councilor of Jemez Springs, plan to get their marriage license first thing this morning. But they’re unsure whether to be married immediately or wait for a ceremony that can be attended by family and friends.
“We’ve never done this,” Struble said in an interview after the court hearing.
Christine Butler of Albuquerque, who opposes gay marriage and attended the hearing, said the judge’s ruling violates her rights.
“I don’t want to bring my children or go to places and see same-sex couples showing a lot of affection. … That’s against God’s law,” Butler said.
Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver said she had 1,000 licenses printed in case Malott ordered her to issue licenses for same-sex marriages.
On Monday morning, couples were lined up in Santa Fe waiting for the clerk’s office to open. Before noon, 64 same-sex couples had received licenses there. That brought the total to 113 licenses granted since Friday.
Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples last Wednesday. He said 137 couples from across the state and from neighboring Texas got licenses last week, and 12 more had received them by midmorning Monday.
A group of Republican legislators is planning to file a lawsuit to stop clerks from issuing licenses to same-sex couples.
Ellins, however, said, “I think the train has pulled out of the station.”