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New Mexico becomes 17th US state to legalise gay marriage

Ending ambiguous laws, New Mexico's high court says loud and clear: same-sex unions must be allowed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 December, 2013, 3:51pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 December, 2013, 3:51pm
 

The New Mexico Supreme Court has allowed same-sex marriage across the state, ending legal ambiguity that had produced a patchwork arrangement in which some counties permitted gay nuptials while others prohibited them.

The unanimous ruling makes New Mexico the 17th US state to legalise gay and lesbian marriage, and comes amid growing momentum on the issue that saw the governors of Hawaii and Illinois sign bills last month to permit same-sex weddings in their states.

“Denying same-gender couples the right to marry and thus depriving them and their families of the rights, protections and responsibilities of civil marriage violates the equality demanded by the equal protection clause of the New Mexico Constitution,” Justice Edward Chavez wrote in a 31-page opinion.

After the ruling, about 100 supporters of same-sex marriage gathered in the chilly winter evening in front of the Supreme Court building in downtown Santa Fe, clutching candles and huddling close in the cold.

“To have this verdict come down in this season of darkness is truly a miracle,” said the Reverend Telitha Arnold, of the United Church of Santa Fe.

The New Mexico high court found no state law that expressly forbade gay and lesbian couples the right to wed, and said that barring such marriages amounted to unlawful discrimination based on sexual orientation.

It added that the rights, protections and responsibilities of marriage would apply equally to all, in a decision that highlighted the shifting legal and social landscape on same-sex marriage in the United States.

Changing landscape

“This is everything we’ve hoped for,” said Rose Griego, one of the plaintiffs in the case heard by the court. “We’re very proud to be New Mexicans today. It’s very nice to be part of this march through history.”

Polls have shown increasing public support for gay marriage, and civil rights groups have prevailed at a number of courthouses and in an increasing number of state legislatures.

To have this verdict come down in this season of darkness is truly a miracle
Telitha Arnold, reverend

Just 10 years ago, no US states permitted gay marriage.

Stepping into an intensifying and often bitter national debate over same-sex matrimony, the New Mexico Supreme Court agreed in September to settle the matter for the state after some counties began issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples, either unilaterally or after lower-court rulings.

The latest decision was tailored to take effect immediately, and same-sex couples in at least three counties that had previously not issued licences to gay and lesbian couples called their local clerk’s office to ask about obtaining one, said Daniel Ivey-Soto, a county official.

Couples can wed the same day they get a licence.

Amendment?

But one of New Mexico’s most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage, Republican state Senator Bill Sharer, said he planned to introduce a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Such an amendment, if passed by the legislature, would ultimately need the approval of voters.

“The Supreme Court decided to overturn a several-millennial-long standing law, and I don’t think they had any good reason to do it,” Sharer said.

Brian Brown, president of the anti-gay-marriage National Organisation for Marriage, called the ruling “a continuation of a very dangerous rush” towards silencing those who see marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Before the ruling, New Mexico faced a situation unique in the United States because its law was ambiguous on same-sex marriage, unlike other states that expressly prohibited or permitted it.

The debate reached a crescendo when all 33 county clerks in the state joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in petitioning New Mexico’s high court to decide the issue on a statewide basis.

Eight New Mexico counties were processing marriage applications by same-sex couples ahead of the ruling, said ACLU spokesperson Micah McCoy.

In celebratory tweets, supporters of gay marriage on Thursday evening planned rallies in several cities.

Among those welcoming the ruling was graphic designer Alex Hanna, 43, who along with his partner of 14 years, Yon Hudson, was a plaintiff in a separate legal case seeking a marriage licenve in Santa Fe.

“We haven’t announced our wedding because we wanted it to be legal in the whole state. That was our goal,” Hanna said.

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