49 couples get permits after court order to county
SANTA FE – An historic week for same-sex marriage in New Mexico culminated Friday with the Santa Fe County clerk issuing marriage licenses to dozens of couples under a court order.
State District Judge Sarah Singleton’s order is the first in New Mexico directing a county clerk to give marriage licenses allowing same-sex couples to wed. However, more legal arguments are expected.
Santa Fe County Commissioner Liz Stefanics, a former state senator, and her partner Linda Siegle, a lobbyist and member of the Santa Fe Community College board, were the first couple to get a license Friday. Stefanics and Siegle, who have been together for 22 years, were married shortly afterward in the Santa Fe County Commission chambers.
Yon Hudson and Alex Hanna, whose court petition provoked the court order under which County Clerk Geraldine Salazar issued the marriage licenses, were a close second in line.
The scene at the Santa Fe County building on Grant Street was celebratory and joyous. Several couples got hitched right away, including Stefanics and Siegle, as well as nine other couples who were married at one time by the Rev. Talitha Arnold of the United Church of Santa Fe.
Salazar ended up extending office hours by two hours to accommodate the demand. Forty-nine licenses had been issued by 7 p.m.
“Now is the time to right the wrongs of hundreds of years of oppression against the gay community,” Salazar declared.
John Day, an attorney handling Hudson and Hanna’s case, called the court order by Singleton “monumental.”
“The dominoes are falling,” he said.
However, the question of whether same-sex marriage is legal under New Mexico law remains unanswered despite Singleton’s directive. Singleton has scheduled a court hearing Sept. 26 to hear lawyers’ arguments on that score.
Singleton, responding to a court petition for Hudson and Hanna, issued an order late Thursday telling Salazar to “comply with your mandatory, nondiscretionary duty to issue marriage licenses on an equitable, nondiscriminatory basis, without regard to sex or sexual orientation” or to come to court to explain why she won’t.
However, Singleton – in a statement provided by her staff – said that her order, or “alternative writ of mandamus,” does not represent “a decision on the merits” and merely provided a way for Salazar to “show cause” why she shouldn’t grant a marriage license to the gay couple.
“No decision has been made,” the judge said.
The Supreme Court, which previously directed state district courts to review same-sex marriage cases before it weighs in, would likely not take the case for a final opinion until after Singleton or another district judge rules on the issue, said state Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, another attorney representing Hudson and Hanna. That would apparently come after the September hearing that Singleton has scheduled.
Salazar said in a statement, “Now that Judge Singleton has ordered me to issue a license to Messrs. Hanna and Hudson on constitutional grounds, I intend to do so and to issue a license to any same-sex couple who desires one and are otherwise qualified.
“By complying with the judge’s order, we will be issuing licenses legally and will not continue to use limited county resources on further litigation,” she said.
Siegle, shortly after receiving her license, described herself as being in a whirlwind. Siegle said she and Stefanics decided Friday morning to get married after Stefanics talked with Salazar and learned that Salazar would really be issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.
“We’ve been together for 22 years and it seemed like it was time,” Siegle said.
“It means being sanctioned by the state of New Mexico,” Siegle said. “With being married comes a lot of benefits and responsibilities. So now we get to share those with all of our straight friends who are married.”
Several Santa Fe city officials made an appearance at the county building as the licenses were being handed out. Santa Fe Mayor David Coss served as a witness for two couples.
Santa Fe City Councilor and mayoral candidate Patti Bushee, who is gay, said she was elated by Friday’s events.
“I’m grateful to the clerk and the county for taking this position,” Bushee said. “This is going to move along. Before you know it, it will be sanctioned by the New Mexico Supreme Court. It’s a long time coming and I’m really pleased.”
Carolyn Dechaine of Santa Fe made her way to the clerk’s office Friday afternoon with her partner of three years, Kristina McKeown, and the couple got a license.
“We probably won’t be married for another year, but when we heard this was happening, it was so exciting and historic we wanted to be a part of it,” Dechaine said.
Salazar told the Journal that other New Mexico county clerks are discussing whether they might follow suit.
The Doña Ana County clerk began issuing marriage licenses in Las Cruces this week to same-sex couples, saying he was tired of waiting for the courts to rule on pending lawsuits. A handful of lawsuits have been filed in Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties.
Attorney General Gary King, a Democrat, has said his office will not intervene but 29 Republican legislators have said they plan to ask the state Supreme Court to stop Doña Ana County from continuing to issue the licenses.
Singleton herself has lived with retired Court of Appeals Judge Lynn Pickard for around three decades. She told the Santa Fe New Mexican during an election campaign in 2010 that the two women never sought to marry.
“This is the way I feel about it: Everyone knows that I have lived with Lynn Pickard for a long time,” Singleton told the newspaper. “Anything else that goes on is nobody’s business.”