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7th New Mexico county plans to allow gay marriage

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The legal fight over gay marriage in New Mexico broadened Tuesday as a seventh county announced plans to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Grant County Clerk Robert Zamarripa said his office will comply with a judge’s ruling issued Tuesday and will begin providing the licenses next week.

“We’ll let the Legislature and courts decide after this what needs to be done,” Zamarripa said in a telephone interview.

His comments came shortly after District Judge J.C. Robinson issued an order requiring the clerk to issue marriage licenses “on a nondiscriminatory basis” to same-sex couples.

In a separate case, Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover is fighting a similar court order and said she won’t immediately change her policy of denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Stover is to appear in state district court Wednesday. She’s asking Judge Sheri Raphaelson to put a gay marriage lawsuit on hold until the issue is resolved by the state Supreme Court in another case.

A same-sex couple from Los Alamos County, Janet Newton and Maria Thibodeau, filed a lawsuit last week after being denied a marriage license. Raphaelson ordered the clerk to issue the couple a marriage license or appear in court to explain why that shouldn’t happen.

Stover said in a statement she denied the license based on “actual language” in state law.

State statutes contain references to “husband” and “wife,” and include a marriage license application that has sections for male and female applicants. County clerks historically have relied on those provisions in denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. However, state law doesn’t explicitly authorize or prohibit same-sex couples to be married.

“I respect and value the rights of each person to be treated as equally and fairly as our Constitution states,” Stover said. “Clearly, the marriage license in state statute has not been updated since 1961. It does not work for same-sex couples, and that is a matter for the Legislature to fix, not a clerk and not a district judge.”

Stover said she hoped the state Supreme Court would soon clarify the law. She has joined with other county clerks in planning to appeal a ruling last week by a judge in Albuquerque, who declared that prohibiting gay marriage in New Mexico is unconstitutional. The judge’s ruling doesn’t apply to all of New Mexico’s 33 counties.

In a written response to Raphaelson’s order, Los Alamos County Attorney Rebecca Ehler told the judge that the Bernalillo County case was moving faster and should provide a “statewide definitive pronouncement” on the legality of gay marriage. Piecemeal litigation poses a risk of contradictory rulings on the same questions of law, she said.

Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins led the way on the gay marriage issue Aug. 21 by deciding independently to allow marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples. Other counties have followed, some because of rulings in lawsuits brought by same-sex couples.

A group of Republican legislators filed a lawsuit last week seeking to stop Ellins.

A lawsuit over gay marriage also is pending in Sandoval County. A lesbian couple from Placitas last week asked a district court to force Sandoval County Clerk Eileen Garbagni to issue them a marriage license. There’s been no ruling by a judge or hearing scheduled in the case as of Tuesday.

Garbagni said she won’t issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until a court orders it.