New Mexico gay couples won a court ruling ordering county clerks in Albuquerque and Santa Fe to issue marriage licenses in a lawsuit brought by same-sex couples who had previously been turned away.
Judge Alan Malott in Albuquerque ruled yesterday that denying gay couples the right to marry violates the New Mexico constitution. State rules require couples wishing to marry to obtain a license and doesn’t define or limit the definition of “couples” to heterosexual, he said.
New Mexico, whose voters chose a Republican governor in 2010 and President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the past two presidential elections, is the only U.S. state that has no law related to same-sex marriage or civil unions. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit this year on behalf of gay couples who were denied marriage licenses.
Malott said that under state’s domestic affairs law, which says applications for marriage licenses must be filled in by a “male applicant” and “female applicant,” it’s “arguable” that gay marriage is illegal.
Yet it’s “beyond argument” that the state constitution guarantees equal rights regardless of “the sex of any person,” he said.
“Implying conditions of sexual orientation on one’s right” to marry violates the constitution, Malott said.
Gays and lesbians in New Mexico “have endured a long history of discrimination,” and denying the right to marry “continues this unfortunate, intolerable pattern,” he ruled.
“Our state is now on the brink of joining the growing list of states who live and honor the values of family, liberty and love,” Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU in New Mexico, said in an e-mail. “Every family in this state is made richer by this step toward justice for all.”
Micah McCoy, an ACLU spokesman, said it isn’t clear what effect the ruling will have on other counties in New Mexico.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples legally married in states that allowed it. The court also reinstated a federal judge’s order allowing gay marriages in California.
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage. A judge in New Jersey said Aug. 15 that she’ll rule soon about whether same-sex couples in the state can marry.
The New Mexico case is Griego v. Oliver, D-202-CV-2013-2757, Second Judicial District Court, County of Bernalillo (Albuquerque, New Mexico).