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In New Mexico, a County Clerk begins issuing same-gender marriage licenses

LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- Same-gender couples in Doña Ana County, New Mexico began receiving marriage licenses this morning from the County Clerk, who announced he was issuing them based on a widely discussed legal opinion, endorsed by the state’s Attorney General last month, that the state’s equal protection laws required the state to provide the same benefits of marriage extended to other couples.

County Clerk Lynn Ellins began issuing the licenses at 8 am today from his office in the southern New Mexico county neighboring El Paso, Texas.

“We couldn’t be happier for the couples in Doña Ana County – and those across the state who will soon, no doubt, make their way there – who have waited far too long for public sentiment and political courage to evolve far enough to publicly acknowledge their relationships as being just as equal as that of their neighbors,” said Patrick Davis, executive director of ProgressNow New Mexico, a progressive advocacy group working to advance marriage equality in the state.

In April, the City of Santa Fe passed a resolution outlining the case for same-sex marriages to be recognized under current state law. The resolution acknowledged that New Mexico law recognizes marriage as a contract between two gender-neutral parties and that the state’s Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on sex. The state’s marriage license form provides for a bride and groom, though statue permits clerks to use a form that substantially complies with that format. Ellins issued licenses in the same format but without gender-specific references.

After couples in Albuquerque and Santa Fe filed suit earlier this year to require clerks in their counties to issue licenses, the state’s attorney general filed a response in July stating:

“New Mexico’s guarantee of equal protection to its citizens demands that same-sex couples be permitted to enjoy the benefits of marriage in the same way and to the same extent as other New Mexico citizens.”

The State Supreme Court last week denied a request to hear the Albuquerque and Santa Fe cases, returning the matters to local district courts.

In announcing his decision, Ellins noted: "It is clear that the state's marriage statutes are gender neutral and do not expressly prohibit Doña Ana County from issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Any further denial of marriage licenses to these couples violates the United States and New Mexico Constitution and the New Mexico Human Rights Act. Doña Ana County is upholding New Mexico law by issuing these marriage licenses, and I see no reason to make committed couples in Doña Ana County wait another minute to marry."

More about today’s events, including pictures from today’s events and a timeline of marriage equality progress in New Mexico is available online at ProgressNowNM.org.

Where same-gender marriage is legal

In the United States, same-gender marriage is legal in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington -- and in Washington, D.C. It also is legal within the Coquille Indian tribe in Oregon, the Suquamish Indian tribe in Washington state and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan.