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Judge rules in favor of Los Alamos same-sex couple

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) — A northern New Mexico county has become the eighth in the state to allow marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The Los Alamos County clerk’s office issued a license Wednesday to a lesbian couple shortly after a state district judge upheld a decision requiring that to happen.

Janet Newton and Maria Thibodeau were denied a marriage license last week and they filed a lawsuit that led to a ruling by District Court Judge Sheri Raphaelson that same-sex couples are entitled to be married in New Mexico.

Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover went to court Wednesday to defend her decision, but the judge ruled against the clerk.

Six of the state’s 33 counties are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and a seventh plans to start granting licenses next week.

The following article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

Los Alamos couple denied same-sex marriage license

by Dan Boyd / Journal Staff Writer

SANTA FE – Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover refused Tuesday to comply with a judge’s order to issue a marriage license to a lesbian couple, at least temporarily denying the gay marriage movement in New Mexico another victory.

Stover, a Republican, said the constitutionality of a state law that requires “male” and “female” to be listed on marriage application forms should be decided by the Legislature or the state Supreme Court, not by county clerks or lower courts.

She said she plans to show up in court today to argue her stance.

“Piecemeal litigation in courts across New Mexico is not good governance,” Stover said in a statement. “County clerks need a comprehensive and clear answer from the state of New Mexico addressing this issue.”

“We all need to be issuing the same marriage license and following the same laws,” she said.

First Judicial District Judge Sheri Raphaelson last week ordered Stover to issue a marriage license to the Los Alamos couple or show up in court to argue why she should not have to do so.

Stover had previously declined to issue a marriage license to the couple – Janet Newton and Maria Thibodeau – prompting the pair to file a lawsuit.

A court response filed Tuesday by the Los Alamos County attorney on Stover’s behalf contested parts of Raphaelson’s initial order, while asking that further court proceedings be delayed until the Supreme Court issues a ruling on the matter.

The state’s highest court has so far denied several requests to take over and consolidate pending gay marriage lawsuits, but 31 county clerks – including Stover – have intervened in a Bernalillo County case in hopes of finally getting a decisive, statewide ruling.

John Day and Brian Egolf, the Santa Fe attorneys for the Los Alamos couple, said Tuesday there is no reason to wait for the Supreme Court.

“Clerk Stover’s decision to ask her constituents to wait while an Albuquerque judge acts is as surprising as it is unsupported in the law,” they said in a statement to the Journal. “Simply put, there is no reason why Clerk Stover should force Janet Newton and Maria Thibodeau to move to the ‘back of the bus’ to wait months for a different lawsuit elsewhere to be resolved.”

With Stover’s refusal, Los Alamos County becomes the first in New Mexico to defy a court order on same-sex marriage.

County clerks in six other counties – Bernalillo, Santa Fe, Doña Ana, Valencia, Taos and San Miguel – started issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples in the past three weeks, either voluntarily or in response to lower court orders.

In addition, Grant County Clerk Robert Zamarripa told The Associated Press on Tuesday his office will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples next week in response to a court order in that county.

Marriage equality advocates argue the state Constitution’s equal protection clause trumps state law and allows for same-sex marriage. That view was backed by District Court Judge Alan Malott of Albuquerque in an Aug. 26 order compelling the Bernalillo and Santa Fe County clerks to issue marriage licenses.

Meanwhile, seven Republican legislators filed a lawsuit in Doña Ana County last week aimed at halting gay marriage in New Mexico. They claim Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins overstepped his legal authority by voluntarily beginning to issue marriage licenses.

Rep. Jimmie Hall, an Albuquerque Republican who is one of the legislators who signed on to the lawsuit, criticized “activist judges” who have effectively sanctioned same-sex marriage in three counties.

He lauded Stover for refusing to comply with the judge’s order in Los Alamos County on Tuesday, saying, “I think she is very courageous and I think there will be more.”

“It really is a legislative issue that needs to be decided by the people,” Hall added.

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