Shouts of joy and celebration filled the Bernalillo County clerk’s office Tuesday as 136 same-sex couples lined up to obtain marriage certificates a day after a judge ordered clerks to issue the licenses.
By noon, a dozen same-sex couples were taking vows of marriage in a mass ceremony on Civic Plaza as jubilant well-wishers cheered and voiced support for marriage equality.
Meanwhile, the same-sex marriage movement continued to gain momentum across the state.
Clerks in San Miguel and Valencia counties said Tuesday they had ordered gender-neutral forms allowing them to follow the lead of the state’s three most populous counties in recognizing gay and lesbian marriages. And in Taos County, a district court judge signed an order directing the County Clerk’s Office to issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples.
Bernalillo County was the third and most populous New Mexico county to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Doña Ana County began the practice Aug. 21 and Santa Fe County followed on Friday.
“Equality feels wonderful,” Ellen Grigsby, 55, said moments after exchanging vows on Civic Plaza with her partner of 25 years, Tracie Bartlett, 49. “This gives us the protection that other married couples have. This has been a long time coming.”
District Judge Alan Malott in Bernalillo County ruled Monday that New Mexico laws that appear to prohibit same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and cannot be enforced.
Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver began issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples Tuesday after county officials worked overnight to prepare gender-neutral forms .
Malott’s order resolved a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico against the Santa Fe and Bernalillo county clerks on behalf of six same-sex couples who had been denied marriage licences by those offices.
Neither Bernalillo County nor the New Mexico Attorney General’s office offered a defense to the lawsuit.
The influence of Malott’s order is being felt in counties that were not named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Valencia County Clerk Peggy Carabajal said her office would begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples at noon today. Carbajal said she made the decision in consultation with county attorneys after hearing about Malott’s ruling.
San Miguel County Clerk Melanie Rivera also said she would issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples who ask for them. She made the decision in consultation with county attorneys to head off possible lawsuits, she said.
Doña Ana County had issued 169 marriage licenses to same-gender couples as of late Tuesday, Chief Deputy Clerk Mario Jimenez III said. Also Tuesday, the Doña Ana County Commission approved a resolution supporting Clerk Lynn Ellins’ decision to issue the certificates, Jimenez said.
Santa Fe County has issued 182 marriage certificates to same sex partners since Friday.
In Albuquerque, a crowd of about 300 people erupted in cheers after Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court Judge Jason Greenlee told the couples: “With the power finally vested in me by the State of New Mexico, I now pronounce you married.”
Many other couples exchanged vows in brief ceremonies held in offices at the Albuquerque/Bernalillo County building after obtaining marriage certificates.
“We are one now,” Betty Garcia, 24, said after exchanging vows with Desiree Padilla, 32, in a tearful ceremony at the Bernalillo County Probate Court office. “It’s the best day of my life. This is as happy as I’ve ever been.”
Sense of urgency
Some couples who obtained marriage licenses Tuesday expressed a sense of urgency because Republican legislators are publicly discussing plans for filing a lawsuit to end the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“We’re running scared,” said Danielle Morris, 38, of Los Lunas, who drove up with her partner, Jodi Romero, 42, early Tuesday to obtain a marriage certificate. “We wanted to do it before somebody took it away from us again.”
That urgency may have contributed to the numbers of gay and lesbian couples that thronged the Bernalillo County clerk office on Tuesday.
About two dozen couples lined the hallway when doors opened at 8 a.m. By noon, the clerk’s office had issued more than 70 marriage certificates.
First through the doors were Patricia Catlett, 61, and Karen Schmiege, 69, who arrived at the clerk’s office before 6 a.m. The couple drew cheers from the crowd when they displayed the first Bernalillo County marriage certificate issued to a same-sex couple.
“We wanted to be here right away so they wouldn’t change their minds,” Catlett said of their decision to arrive so early.
“We’ve been a monogamous couple for 25 years,” she said. “We pay our taxes. We do volunteer work. I don’t know what people are afraid of.”
Journal staff writer T.S. Last contributed to this report.