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Report: Federal government recognizing same-sex couples’ New Mexico marriage licenses

Marriage equality

New Mexico state sealMarriage equality continues its piecemeal, county-by-county approach in New Mexico, where eight counties (of 33 total) are currently issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear oral arguments on October 23 and will likely issue a definitive ruling on state law sometime after that.  In the meantime, however, it seems that the federal government will honor licenses obtained in the eight counties allowing marriage equality, according to a report by BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner:

Although a Pentagon official wouldn’t confirm any change in policy, at least one Air Force base has begun recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples married in New Mexico — even before the state’s supreme court reaches a final decision on the matter.

BuzzFeed spoke with the same-sex spouse of a service member stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who said the couple married in New Mexico and that she obtained a spousal ID card at the base on Tuesday.

Initially, Courtney Schmeling told BuzzFeed, officials at Kirtland Air Force Base said they could not recognize the Aug. 28 marriage between her and her wife, Sr. Airman Natalie Throckmorton, because it was granted in New Mexico and not one of the states that have statewide legislative or judicial decisions allowing for same-sex couples to marry.

“They said that we would have to get a marriage license from another state,” Schmeling said.

Last week, however, Schmeling said officials at the base told them the policy had changed and that their marriage would be recognized. On Tuesday, Schmeling said she went on base and picked up her spousal ID card with no delay or other problems.

According to Geidner’s report, the couple sought recognition of their marriage license under a new Pentagon policy, instituted last week, which recognizes same-sex married couples in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s invalidation of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.

An email from a spokeswoman at Kirtland Air Force Base provided to BuzzFeed explained that base officials sought and received clarification “from Headquarters Air Force Personnel Center on jurisdictions not covered in previous guidance.”  Department of Defense guidelines on marriage equality states had not included New Mexico, due to the recent–and complex–nature of developments in the state.  Air Force officials appear to have instructed Kirtland to issue spousal ID cards, although Pentagon and Kirtland officials for some reason would not provide BuzzFeed with further comment.

Geidner’s report demonstrates the continuing complexity of the fallout from the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA.  Because of its new policies, almost all federal government agencies now recognize same-sex couples’ valid marriage licenses.  The licenses at question in New Mexico have been duly issued by county clerks–in some cases with the backing of local courts–which puts the federal government on a good legal footing.  However, couples in the state will remain in a certain state of limbo until the New Mexico Supreme Court issues its final decision on the matter.

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