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SF clerk ordered to give gay marriage licenses -- updated

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By Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The county clerk in the New Mexico state capital and the heart of this state's gay rights movement began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples Friday, a court-ordered move that came just two days after a county clerk in the south decided on his own to recognize same-sex marriage.

The first couple to get a license in the state's third-largest county was Santa Fe County Commissioner Liz Stefanics and Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for Equality New Mexico, a gay rights group. Stefanics is a former Democratic state senator from Santa Fe.

The couple walked into County Clerk Geraldine Salazar's office shortly after 1:30 p.m., and asked if they were still denying licenses to same-sex couples.

"Not today," Salazar said.

Also receiving a license were the two men who filed the lawsuit that resulted in the court order directing the clerk to issue the licenses — Alexander Hanna and Yon Hudson.

"It's exhilarating and also humbling," Hudson said.

The order late Thursday from District Judge Sarah Singleton represents the first time a New Mexico judge has ruled that gay and lesbian couples can be married, said state Rep. Brian Egolf, a lawyer representing Hanna and Hudson in the suit.

Siegle called Friday's events a "culmination of years of effort for gay and lesbian rights." She has been lobbying on the issue for more than two decades.

Stefanics and Siegle were to be married later Friday afternoon in the Santa Fe County Courthouse. Hanna and Hudson said they were going to wait until they could arrange a ceremony involving family and friends.

Singleton's ruling ordered Salazar to grant the marriage licenses or appear in court Sept. 26 to tell her why that shouldn't happen.

Salazar said she had long wanted to give licenses to gay couples but felt her hands were tied legally.

In March, Santa Fe Mayor David Coss encouraged county clerks to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. A month later, the Santa Fe City Council passed a resolution recognizing gay marriage as legal in New Mexico.

But Salazar works for the county, not the city.

"I am a fervent supporter of same-sex marriage," she said. "... I have been frustrated recently wanting to issue licenses but being confronted with longstanding statutes that do not permit it."

Egolf said Friday the ruling could help speed a resolution of the gay marriage issue in the state.

"This will be the first time a court anywhere in New Mexico ... has ordered same-sex couples to be married," said Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat who unsuccessfully pushed in the Legislature for a constitutional amendment to legalize gay marriage.

He and other activists are trying to get a lawsuit before the New Mexico Supreme Court to decide whether same-sex couples legally can be married in the state.

New Mexico law doesn't explicitly prohibit or authorize same-sex couples to be married. The attorney general's office has interpreted the law to prohibit gay marriage, but Attorney General Gary King also contends the law violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law.

Singleton, in her order, said that "reading a sex or sexual orientation requirement into the laws of New Mexico violates the state constitution, which mandates that 'equality of rights under law shall not be denied on account of the sex of any person.'"

The order comes as about 90 same-sex couples have received marriage licenses in southern New Mexico since Wednesday, when the Dona Ana County clerk in Las Cruces decided to start granting them.

A group of Republican legislators is planning to file a lawsuit to stop the clerk in that county, the second largest in the state.

Dona Ana Chief Deputy Clerk Mario Jimenez said Texas couples are traveling to the border region to get married.

He said Jerrett Morris and Jeffrey Tingley were in town from Dallas visiting family when they decided to get their marriage license Friday at the Las Cruces courthouse.

Jimenez said another same-sex couple from Dallas is flying into the region later Friday to get married, and a couple from San Antonio is expected next week.

"They are traveling to change their lives," Jimenez said. "And more are coming."

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