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NM court asked to expedite gay marriage ruling

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By Barry Massey

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A same-sex couple from Santa Fe has asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to streamline the handling of lawsuits seeking to legalize gay marriage in the state.

Rep. Brian Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat and lawyer for the couple, said Tuesday 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 are being asked to consolidate all cases involving the gay marriage issue and assign them to a district court judge in Santa Fe, who would issue a ruling that would go directly to the Supreme Court for review.

The Supreme Court took a similar approach in 2011 by consolidating several competing lawsuits over the drawing of new district boundaries for legislative, congressional and other elected offices. The court assigned the redistricting challenges to a retired judge in Santa Fe. That avoided the possibility of conflicting rulings in different lower courts.

Two cases involving gay marriage are pending in lower courts — one in Santa Fe brought by two men who were denied a marriage license, and a lawsuit in Albuquerque brought on behalf of several same-sex couples by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The lawsuits ask district judges to order county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The lawsuits contend that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples violates the New Mexico Constitution, including provisions that guarantee due process and equal protection under the law.

The Supreme Court said last week it wouldn't immediately decide whether gay marriage is legal in the state and instead would allow lower courts to first consider the issue. The justices had been asked to rule on the legal question rather than wait for an appeal of a lower court decision.

Egolf said consolidating gay marriage cases would ensure the Supreme Court considers the legal issue even if county officials decided not to appeal any ruling by a lower court.