Stover mulls same-sex marriage license issue

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Courts > Clerk to decide whether to abide by judge’s order

By John Severance

Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover said Tuesday she is going to wait until this afternoon to make a decision on whether to abide by a court order.

District Court Judge Sheri Raphaelson signed a writ of mandamus Thursday, which orders Stover to issue a marriage license to residents Janet Newton and Maria Thibodeau.

Newton and Thibodeau filed a complaint in district court Wednesday after being denied a license by Stover last Tuesday.

Here is the statement from Stover:

“Late this morning, Los Alamos County received a complete package of documentation regarding a recent lawsuit filed against Los Alamos County and related order from First Judicial District Court Judge Sheri Raphaelson for the clerk’s office to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Judge Raphaelson’s order stated that I should begin issuing the licenses or appear before her in court on Wednesday, Sept. 4 at 10 a.m. to explain why the licenses are not being issued.

“I consider this to be a matter of great importance, not only to Los Alamos County, but to all county clerks in New Mexico, as I have already indicated by my support in joining all of the other clerks in the New Mexico Association of Counties’ request for the State Supreme Court to provide procedural guidance on how we should proceed. It requires my careful thought and consideration for everyone involved.

“I have not had adequate time yet to review the documentation we just received with our County Attorney, and thus I am not ready to make a statement to media about whether or not I will comply with Judge Raphaelson’s request at this time. I do plan to review the lawsuit and court order on Tuesday, confer with the attorney and then make my decision. I will issue a statement to media on Tuesday regarding my decision no later than 4 p.m. Thank you for your understanding and patience as I evaluate my options and weigh my decision carefully over the next few days.”

Armed with a court order from Raphaelson, Newton and Thibodeau went to the Los Alamos County Clerk’s office Friday afternoon in the Municipal Building in an attempt to get a marriage license.

Deputy clerk Sheryl Nichols told them that Stover and county attorney Rebecca Ehler had just received all the documentation from the court case and they still had to go through it.

Newton and Thibodeau both said they understood and left without a license.

“She (deputy clerk) Sheryl Nichols said the main issue is form being the problem listing a bride and groom,” Newton said. “That’s the sort of argument for why we don’t have same-sex marriage in the state. The clerk wants to normalize the whole process.

“They told us they were still going over the court documents.”

Last Tuesday, Newton and Thibodeau went to the clerk’s office and were turned down.

“She (Stover) said if we brought a district court order, she would issue us a license. Now it’s bring us the court order and our county attorney has to review it.

Newton and Thibodeau were asked why they don’t go to Santa Fe to get married.

“This is where we pay our taxes,” Thibodeau said.

“I grew up in Los Alamos,” Newton added. “This is where my home is not Santa Fe. Los Alamos needs to honor it.”

On Wednesday, the couple contacted Egolf + Ferlic + Day and the Santa Fe firm filed the complaint and set the wheels in motion.

“Regardless of what happens here, I’d be fine with it going to the Supreme Court,” Newton said. “County by county is not going to achieve more.”

Meanwhile, a group of Republican legislators, has brought the first lawsuit to try to block gay marriage in New Mexico since six counties began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the past week.

The lawsuit targets one southern New Mexico county — Dona Ana — but could provide another route for the dispute to reach New Mexico’s highest court for a final statewide resolution. The New Mexico Association of Counties and county clerks statewide have said they plan a separate appeal to the state Supreme Court to try to get a decision on whether gay marriage is legal in New Mexico.

Paul Becht, an Albuquerque lawyer for the GOP legislators, said Friday the lawsuit was filed in Las Cruces, where the Dona Ana County Clerk’s office has issued more than 200 marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples in just the past week.

The lawsuit contends the Dona Ana County Clerk exceeded his powers as a local official in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It’s up to the Legislature — not a county clerk — to change the law to provide for gay marriage, said Becht, a former state senator.

Ellins “has violated the New Mexico Constitution’s separation of powers doctrine by determining on his own which laws he will enforce based upon his interpretation of the statutes and constitution,” the lawsuit said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Thank you to Sharon Stover.

I want to say "Thank you" to Sharon Stover. She bravely tried to do the right thing in the face of considerable pressure.

Stover not doing her job

Why did 5 other NM County Clerks immediately start issuing licenses when instructed by a judge to do so? Why does Stover feel she gets to decide this? Clearly she has a political agenda, and does not care if her actions stop others from a now legal action. She has got to GO.