SANTA FE – Los Alamos County was on the brink Thursday of becoming the seventh New Mexico county to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, while county clerks around the state looked to the state Supreme Court for a decisive, statewide ruling on gay marriage’s legality.
Same-sex marriage advocates saw another regional victory when a judge in the Santa Fe-based 1st Judicial District ordered Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover to either issue a marriage license to a lesbian couple that had been denied earlier this week or show up in court next week to argue why she should not have to do so.
“We consider it a significant victory for marriage equality,” Santa Fe attorney John Day, who represents the Los Alamos couple, said of the ruling.
Stover, a Republican, told the
Journal late Thursday that she had not yet seen the order by 1st Judicial District Judge Sheri Raphaelson.
While Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar last week responded to a similar court order by starting to issue same-sex marriage licenses, Stover offered no guarantees about her next course of action.
“Once we get (the order), we’ll review it with the county attorney,” she said.
Meanwhile, a judge in Albuquerque signed a separate order Thursday allowing 31 county clerks and the New Mexico Association of Counties to intervene in a Bernalillo County lawsuit regarding same-sex marriage. The state’s two remaining county clerks – in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties – were already listed on the suit.
The county clerks are seeking a state Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, saying they are unsure whether lower court orders should be applied statewide and whether they can alter marriage application forms to make them gender-neutral.
The Thursday order by District Judge Alan Malott of Albuquerque – who ruled earlier this week the state Constitution’s equal protection clause allows same-sex marriage – was welcomed by the American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the Bernalillo County lawsuit.
“We believe that the county clerks intervening in our lawsuit puts New Mexico on an expedited path towards a statewide marriage solution which would provide more certainty for the same-sex couples who married in our state,” said Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico. “We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will agree with the lower court decision which held that denying marriage to committed, loving same-sex couples is unconstitutional.”
County clerks in six counties – Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Doña Ana, San Miguel, Valencia and Taos – started issuing same-sex marriage licenses in the past two weeks, either voluntarily or in response to lower court orders.
However, the Supreme Court has turned down requests to consolidate and take over several pending lawsuits.
New Mexico County Clerks Affiliate Executive Director Daniel Ivey-Soto said the county clerks hope their show of solidarity prompts the state’s highest court to step in.
“One thing the Supreme Court has made clear is they are not going to take procedural shortcuts,” Ivey-Soto said.