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Judges in 2 New Mexico counties stop officiating weddings

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CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) — Judges in two southeastern New Mexico counties recently announced they will no longer officiate weddings after the state’s high court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal.

The announcement means judges in Eddy and Chaves counties won’t officiate any civil marriage ceremonies, from straight or same-sex couples, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reports.

In December, the New Mexico Supreme Court decided it was unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

The Eddy County Clerk’s Office said the decision was made a few months ago. Jeff Ortega, chief deputy clerk for Chaves County, said judges informed the county of their decision months before the Supreme Court decision.

State law does not require judges to officiate weddings, but county clerks are required to issue licenses that must be signed by a judge, minister or tribal representative.

“I don’t have a problem with who wants to get married,” said Eddy County Magistrate Judge Henry Castaneda. “But we don’t have to compromise our beliefs.”

Meanwhile, Carlsbad Municipal Judge David Redford said his caseload was too much to bear to continue performing marriage ceremonies.

Arthur Pepin, director of the state’s Administrative Offices of the Court, said the department never had an official marriage policy, but received numerous calls about the issue after the ruling was made. The decision, Pepin said, is optional but he doesn’t know how many judges in the state have adopted the practice of not performing marriages.

“We understand it is a sensitive matter for so many people,” he said. “But you have to treat people equally.”

“They either perform marriages or they don’t,” he added.

In Lea County, however, two judges in Lovington did notify the county clerk that they were still going to continue to officiate weddings, said Lea County Clerk Pat Chappelle.

Chappelle said the county has not received a significant spike in marriage licenses since the ruling, but the process has been a little slower because of a shortage of people who can legally sign off on marriage licenses.

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