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New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is reacting to a county clerk’s office issuing marriage licenses to dozens of same-sex couples by repeating her call for a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment.
Martinez is an opponent of same-sex marriage and she says she continues to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.
The Albuquerque Journal reports that a statement Martinez issued Wednesday says any change regarding marriage should be made by the people of New Mexico.
The Doña Ana County Clerk’s office starting issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Wednesday and issued more than 40 before closing for the day.
Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins said his office had provided 35 licenses to same-sex couples compared to four or five given on an average day to heterosexual couples.
Jeff Williams, a public information officer in the county’s government and a reverend with Universal Life Church, said he was marrying same-sex couples all day long while wearing his rainbow-colored tie.
Outside the courthouse, television reporters were busy interviewing the people getting married and there was no sign of any protesters.
Ellins said he had carefully read state laws and concluded the “state’s marriage statutes are gender neutral and do not expressly prohibit Dona Ana County from issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples.”
Later in the day, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said he had no plans to challenge the move by Ellins or any other county clerks who might allow the practice.
Ellins said he had been considering issuing the licenses since June, when King released a position paper saying state laws don’t allow same-sex marriage. King had asked county clerks to hold off on issuing licenses, even though he believes the laws are unconstitutional.
Ellins, however, said “any further denial of marriage licenses to these couples violates the United States and New Mexico Constitution and the New Mexico Human Rights Act.”
“I see no reason to make committed couples in Dona Ana County wait another minute to marry,” he added in his statement.
King said Wednesday that “we feel like our position that the law is unconstitutional presents a barrier to us from bringing any action.”
Still, he warned that marriage licenses issued by county clerks could become invalid if the state Supreme Court later rules that same-sex marriage is not allowed.
Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover said back in March she would not issue one because it is a violation of state law.
Stover cited NM statute 40-1-8 where the application, license and certificate have to be between a male and a female applicant.
However, there is some ambiguity in the New Mexico statutes. Statute 40-1-1 says that marriage is a civil contract requiring consent of parties.
Stover further clarified her position Wednesday.
“I have worked with Lynn Ellins and have a great deal of respect for him, but as a county clerk, we do not establish the laws, we implement them,” Stover said.
“Our office will wait until the courts and/or the legislature acts.
“I say this based on the statement by the Attorney General Gary King on June 6, when he ‘cautioned against issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples before the courts have decided the issue or the legislature changes the laws.’
“Our office would be happy to issue same sex licenses if it is allowed by law.”
Stover said no same-sex couples have come to the clerk’s office to apply for a license.
And when asked if a couple did come in, what would she do?
“If they did, we would refuse to issue a license, but would make them aware that Dona Ana is selling licenses.”
Dona Ana County became the first county in New Mexico to actively issue same-sex licenses since a Sandoval County clerk issued 64 licenses to same-sex couples in 2004. Then-Attorney General Patricia Madrid soon declared the licenses were invalid and a court later ordered the clerk to stop.
On Tuesday, a same-sex couple from Santa Fe asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to streamline the handling of lawsuits seeking to legalize gay marriage in the state.
State Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, a lawyer who represents the couple, said the goal is to get a quick lower court decision and clear the way for an expedited ruling by the state’s highest court.
The justices were being asked to consolidate all cases involving the issue and assign a district court judge in Santa Fe, who would issue a ruling that would go directly to the state Supreme Court for review.
Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar said she does not plan on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of pending lawsuits.
“I believe it’s in the right place — the courts,” Salazar said.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed an emergency request on Wednesday with the state’s Second Judicial District Court to allow two women in Pojoaque, Jen Roper and Angelique Neuman, to legally marry immediately in Santa Fe County. The group said Jen Roper is not expected to live long.