SANTA FE, N.M. — A Pojoaque couple is making the latest court effort to obtain a license for a legal same-sex marriage in New Mexico, and this one comes with a sense of urgency.
Jen Roper, 44, was diagnosed with brain cancer last December and was given just 18 months to live. For a variety of reasons, she would like to wed her partner of 21 years before her time is up.
“Nothing would mean more to us and to our sons than to celebrate our love and commitment through legal marriage in our home, New Mexico,” reads Roper’s declaration in a motion for a temporary restraining order filed in state District Court in Albuquerque on Wednesday.
“Given my limited time, I ask the court to act quickly so that we may enjoy the respect, dignity, and recognition our relationship deserves.”
The motion was filed on behalf of Roper and her partner, 45-year-old Angelique Neuman, by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, the national ACLU and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
In a separate tack, the plaintiffs also filed a request with Albuquerque District Court Judge Alan Malott to allow Roper and Neuman to join five other couples in a previously filed lawsuit challenging the state’s opposition to granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
That filing asks that Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar, who like Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver has refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, be added as a defendant in the group case.
Malott will consider that motion Monday in Albuquerque.
“The most important thing is that this couple cannot wait for the usual litigation process, and this will allow them to receive much, much needed relief,” said Laura Schauer Ives, legal director for the ACLU of New Mexico. “This motion was filed on their behalf alone because they have urgent circumstances … We expect that this may expedite the case as a whole.”
Named defendants in the new case are clerks Toulouse Oliver and Salazar and the state of New Mexico.
The filing for Roper and Neuman came on the same day that DoÃ±a Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins announced that his office will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, maintaining that state marriage statutes are gender-neutral.
Schauer Ives said that given Roper’s condition it would be impossible for her to travel to a state that allows same-sex marriage, or even elsewhere in New Mexico, to obtain a license.
“Not only would it be impractical but impossible, just as it was nearly impossible for her to travel the short distance from the nursing home where she’s staying to apply for a license in Santa Fe,” she said.
Roper and Neuman attempted to obtain a marriage license at the clerk’s office in Santa Fe on Aug. 14 but were denied.
Met at NM Tech
According to their motion filed Wednesday, Roper and Neuman met in 1991 while both were students at New Mexico Tech in Socorro. Their friendship soon developed into a romance and they have been together ever since.
The document states that Roper wears an engagement ring Neuman gave her that was her mother’s, and the couple intended to marry once the state legally allowed same-sex couples to do so.
When Neuman finished school, she took a job at Los Alamos National Laboratory and Roper followed. Roper also secured employment at LANL but later took a job with the Pueblo of Pojoaque, most recently with the pueblo’s Boys and Girls Club.
Twelve years ago, the couple jointly adopted three brothers through the Children, Youth and Families Department. The boys are now ages 15, 16 and 18, and the eldest is in basic training with the U.S. Army.
Last December, Roper was diagnosed with Stage 4 glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, and was given an 18-month prognoses. A week after surgery was performed to partially remove the tumor, Roper suffered a stroke, resulting in partial paralysis on her right side, memory loss, difficulty with recall and vision impairment. While those issues have stabilized, doctors said her physical and mental capacities will continue to deteriorate.
Roper is currently undergoing in-patient treatment at an assisted living facility in Los Alamos.
“My condition has made my desire to marry Angelique far more urgent,” Roper says in her affidavit. “I may not live much longer, and I cannot wait until the state gets around to finally acknowledging the importance of my relationship. Even if we wanted to go and get married in another state, my inability to travel prevents us from doing so.”
The motion argues that while their children are afforded Social Security benefits due to Roper’s inability to work, Neuman would not be eligible for death benefits.
Roper also states in her affidavit that should she die before she and Neuman marry, there would be “no official record of the life and love Angelique and I shared,” as the “surviving spouse” box on her death certificate would be left blank.
A gay male couple from Santa Fe is also seeking an order requiring Salazar to give them a marriage license.