New Mexico same-sex marriage supporters applauded a U.S. Supreme Court decision Wednesday that could allow same-sex couples living in New Mexico, who married legally in another state, to receive full marriage benefits under federal law.
New Mexico law does not allow issuance of same-sex marriage licenses, but a 2011 opinion by Attorney General Gary King concluded that New Mexico law recognizes marriages officiated in another state.
“These decisions with the Supreme Court certainly fit with what the law is in New Mexico,” King told the Journal, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court action.
“A couple who is married in a state that recognizes those marriages has rights under the federal law and has rights under the (New Mexico) state law that coincide with each other,” King said.
King said he believed New Mexico courts would uphold his opinion validating out-of-state marriages, although the question has not been tested.
The director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, Peter Simonson, praised the Supreme Court decision as the “beginning of the end” of government-sanctioned discrimination against same-sex couples.
“This is truly a historic moment for basic fairness in the United States,” Simonson said. “DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) is the last federal law on the books that mandates discrimination against gay people by the federal government simply because they are gay, and today’s decision takes down its core.”
However, Simonson questioned whether new federal regulations might be necessary before federal benefits, such as joint tax filings, medical visitation and joint parenting rights, are extended to legally married same-sex couples in New Mexico.
“The (Obama) administration has some discretion in this area. There are certain places in federal law where the validity of marriage is determined by where a couple got married; in other places it’s (applicable laws) where a couple is living.”
Not everyone in New Mexico was pleased with the Supreme Court action. Archbishop of Santa Fe Michael Sheehan, leader of New Mexico’s Roman Catholics, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the Supreme Court action.
“The definition of marriage has radically changed. The repercussions of the court’s decision will prove to be very difficult for our society and family law,” Sheehan said.
Meanwhile, Patrick Dawson and his partner, Jordan, who are raising three boys under age 6 in Albuquerque, said they are considering going to another state to be married and returning to New Mexico to access the new federal benefits.
“The federal government is no longer going to be able to discriminate against our families,” Dawson said Wednesday during a rally at Robinson Park in Albuquerque, celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court action.
About 60 same-sex marriage supporters, clad in rainbow colors, gathered in Robinson Park to celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“What do we want? Equality,” supporters chanted. “Where do we want it? Here.”
A second decision by the Supreme Court on Wednesday – to not rule on California’s Proposition 8 ban of same-sex marriage – effectively directed states to independently decide whether to allow same-sex marriage, New Mexico officials said. The court’s inaction effectively ends the California ban, many legal analysts said.
The office of Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican who has voiced opposition to gay marriage, said that decision should be made by voters via a constitutional amendment rather than politicians in the state Legislature.
“Gov. Martinez’s personal views on the issue, that marriage should be between a man and woman, are well known,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said. “The U.S. Supreme Court decisions tend to indicate a desire for this issue to be decided at the state level, as opposed to the federal level. The governor believes it is most appropriate for voters – not politicians – to make the determination in New Mexico.”
Martinez would not support a legislative change in state law to allow same-sex marriage, Knell said.
King, a Democrat who said he plans to run against Martinez for governor in 2014, said earlier this month that the state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage in New Mexico are “vulnerable to challenge” under a state constitutional protection that guarantees equal protection for all citizens under state law.
The federal Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in part because of similar “equal protections” language in the federal constitution, King said.
At least two lawsuits filed by same-sex couples denied marriage licenses are pending in New Mexico district courts.
After the Supreme Court decisions Wednesday, at least two other same-sex couples unsuccessfully attempted to obtain marriage licenses in Albuquerque.
ProgressNow New Mexico Executive Director Pat Davis, an advocate for same-sex marriage, said the U.S. Supreme Court decision adds to what he described as growing momentum in support of same-sex marriage in New Mexico.
“The court extended the marriage equality challenge to the states. We accept,” Davis said.
Journal staff writer Patrick Lohmann contributed to this report