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Santa Fe City Council approves pro-marriage equality resolution

Marriage equality

By Jacob CombsNew Mexico state seal

Last night, the Santa Fe City Council voted in favor of a resolution supporting marriage equality and exhorting New Mexico’s county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, precipitating applause from the standing room-only crowd which attended the meeting.  Five council members voted yes, one voted no, and two abstained.

So many people came to witness the council vote, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican, that the Santa Fe Fire Department “had to bar the doors before the meeting started,” and many were forced to watch from the hallway.

The city council resolution will have no legal effect, as only county clerks in New Mexico have authority over who can and cannot receive marriage licenses.  In 2004, then-Attorney General Patricia Madrid issued an advisory telling clerks not to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

This year, the clerk of Doña Ana County and a state representative from Mesilla Park asked state Attorney General Gary King to issue an updated opinion on whether county clerks should allow same-sex couples to wed under current New Mexico law.  King’s office has not yet issued any guidance, although the attorney general did issue a directive in 2011 holding that the state must honor any out-of-state marriage license, regardless of the couple’s sexual orientation.

The Santa Fe resolution comes after a March press conference during which Mayor David Coss, City Councilor Patti Bushee and City Attorney Geno Zamora argued that New Mexico law (which contains no specific provision prohibiting marriage equality) should be construed to allow same-sex couples to marry.

In a legal opinion announced at the press conference, Zamora wrote, “Since New Mexico does not define marriage as between a man and a woman, New Mexico does not prohibit same-sex marriage, New Mexico already recognizes same-sex marriages from other states, and the New Mexico Constitution requires equal treatment on the basis of sex, same-sex marriage is permitted in New Mexico.”

At the time, Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar told the New Mexican that she would not be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the law could be clarified.  “The Legislature creates the laws and the judges interpret the laws,” she said, “and I as a county clerk do not create or interpret laws.”

Shortly after the Santa Fe press conference, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the ACLU of New Mexico filed a lawsuit in an Albuquerque district court against the Bernalillo County Clerk alleging that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

In their complaint on behalf of two lesbian couples, one from Santa Fe and another from Aluquerque, the legal groups argue that the New Mexico Constitution guarantees marriage equality on the basis of its due process and equal protection provisions, its equal rights amendment, which holds that “[e]quality of rights under law shall not be denied on account of the sex of any person,” and its prohibitions on discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  That case is known as Griego v. Oliver.

Earlier this year, the New Mexico House Voters & Elections Committee voted 7-4 against a bill that would have amended the state constitution to explicitly allow marriage equality.  The legislation had previously been approved by another House committee on a 3-2 vote.

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