Two women from Placitas are suing the state and the Sandoval county clerk, asking the court to order her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
County Clerk Eileen Garbagni’s staff denied the couple’s request this week. Garbagni has said she was not prepared to issue such licenses until she receives a court order to do so.
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed the lawsuit on behalf of Gail Gering and Carolyn Van Housen in the 13th Judicial District Court in Sandoval County.
The complaint said Gering, 73, and Van Housen, 62, have been in a committed relationship for nearly 18 years. After hearing about clerks in Bernalillo, Santa Fe and Doña Ana counties issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples in recent days, they unsuccessfully sought a license from the Sandoval County Clerk’s office.
Being unmarried limits the couple’s ability to financially secure their retirement, the suit said. It seeks a declaration that “it is unlawful to deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry on the basis of sex or sexual orientation,” saying the denial deprives them of fundamental rights and violates the New Mexico Constitution.
Gering said she and Van Housen obtained a marriage license in California in 2004 when San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom directed the city-county clerk to issue them to same-sex couples. The California Supreme Court later voided the license, she said.
The couple moved to Placitas in 2005 and hoped to get a license in their home county.
“We’ve been told if Sandoval County won’t give us a license in the near term we can go to Bernalillo County,” Gering said, “But we’d prefer to take action here.”
In 2004, Sandoval County Clerk Victoria Dunlap began issuing licenses to 64 same-sex couples but then-Attorney General Patricia Madrid advised her to stop, saying she believed the licenses would be “invalid under current law.”
This week, Attorney General Gary King’s office wrote to Garbagni saying the licenses are valid unless a court of competent jurisdiction acts to invalidate them.
Dunlap said on Friday that she took flak for her action nine years ago.
“But I knew I was right,” Dunlap said in a phone interview.