Santa Fe Commission also signals support for county clerk
The Santa Fe County Commission, with near unanimous support, approved a resolution Tuesday that supports both marriage equality in New Mexico and a recent decision by the Santa Fe county clerk to deny two men a marriage license – an action that’s made her the subject of a lawsuit.
Commissioner Liz Stefanics said the resolution puts the County Commission “on the record as supporting same-sex marriage” and sends a message “that we wish the state Supreme Court to rule and make this matter clear for all the people here in our state.”
Stefanics, who is gay, sponsored the resolution.
Commissioner Kathy Holian said marriage equality is the right thing morally. She added that “I also believe that according to our state constitution it is also the right thing to do.”
“I have always, my entire life, supported marriage equality. I have never had a question in that regard. So I just want to say I’m very pleased, I’m honored even, to vote for this resolution tonight,” Holian said.
Stefanics and Holian were joined by Commissioners Miguel Chavez and Danny Mayfield in voting for the resolution.
“I have to be willing to be tolerant and willing to accept those that think differently than I do or embrace a different lifestyle than I do. That tolerance and acceptance, I think, will move us in the right direction,” Chavez said.
Commissioner Robert Anaya voted against the measure. Anaya expressed support for marriage equality but said he couldn’t vote for a last-minute amendment that changed language in the resolution’s title from support for the county clerk “in her defense of the petition for writ of mandamus” to “in performance of her duties.”
The change was requested by Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, one of the attorneys representing Alexander Hanna and Yon Hudson, who have asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to order Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar to issue them a license. Salazar denied their request for a license in June.
Egolf said he was concerned that the title’s original language could sound like county commissioners were backing certain arguments by Salazar in the case. Egolf said he construed those arguments as indicating the state constitution doesn’t require marriage equality.
Anaya said “it’s important as a governing body that we support the associated interests of the county clerk.”
Stefanics also agreed to remove language from the resolution referring to current state laws restricting same-sex marriage as “morally reprehensible.” The laws are instead just called “antiquated.”
Nearly 50 people attended the commission meeting Tuesday night. All of them appeared to be in favor of the resolution, including nearly 20 people who spoke during a public hearing.
Many of the speakers identified themselves as gay and said they feel like second-class citizens despite being contributing members of the community.
Speakers also included Santa Fe City Councilor Patti Bushee, who this spring sponsored a city resolution supporting same-sex marriage, and Wayne Hancock, who sits on the Doña Ana County Commission.
Hancock said the Doña Ana commission will probably consider a similar measure soon. “It is important to all New Mexicans that equality be fairly distributed to everyone,” he said.
The Santa Fe County Commission’s resolution seeks action by the state Legislature or courts that would make same-sex marriage legal in New Mexico.
“The Board (of County Commissioners) supports the right of same sex couples in this State to marry like opposite sex couples, consistent with New Mexico law, there being no rational or sensible difference between the class of same sex couples and opposite sex couples,” the resolution said.
A response to the suit filed last week on behalf of Salazar by county attorneys focuses mostly on the technicalities of the case. The filing says the Supreme Court only has authority to issue “writ of mandamus” orders to state officers, boards and commissions – but not county officials – and the case belongs in District Court.
The response says Salazar made the decision not to issue Hanna and Hudson a marriage license because New Mexico’s “marriage laws as currently written support issuance of a marriage license only to persons of the opposite sex from each other.”
Salazar, in the response, doesn’t stake out a position on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage in New Mexico.
Salazar said Tuesday the county’s attorneys were pressured to “politicize” her response and she’s “tired of our (county) attorneys being thrown a political football when their duty is to provide sound advice.”
Salazar told the commission she stuck with a legal, not political, analysis in her response to Hanna and Hudson’s suit.
Egolf said his clients bear no ill will toward Salazar, but the laws she’s being asked to enforce are unconstitutional and his clients want the court to provide guidance on the issue.
The county commission resolution states that “the Board (of County Commissioners) also recognizes that the County Clerk must make unpopular arguments in defense of her failure to issue a license, and the Board of County Commissioners recognizes that a judgment obtained without jurisdiction or without grounds is a flawed decision that, on a topic as important as this, is ill advised,” the resolution said.
Stefanics said “our county clerk is in a hard place because our constitution and our state laws do not match up in terms of language.”