LOS ALAMOS – Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover issued a marriage license to a same-sex couple shortly after a District Court judge ruled she must during a court hearing Wednesday.
Stover, who had denied the couple a marriage license when they applied for one last week, said she based that decision on language contained in state statutes.
But focusing primarily on the law that addresses marriage licenses, Judge Sheri Raphaelson interpreted the language differently. Raphaelson noted that the statute refers only to “the couple” and makes no distinction between male or female.
“There’s nothing that makes a gender distinction in that language,” she said, acknowledging that the marriage application forms issued by the state do ask for the names of the male and female applicant.
The judge also noted that the statute uses the word “shall” in directing county clerks to issue licenses to those who qualify.
“The clerk is required that if any couple asks for a license, then the clerk has no discretion,” she said.
Raphaelson said the statute trumps the form. “If the statute is clear, I don’t need to look any further,” she said.
With the ruling, Los Alamos became the eighth New Mexico county to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
After the hearing, Janet Newton and Maria Thibodeau met Stover at the County Clerk’s Office for a marriage license. They have not set a wedding date.
Although the couple could have gone to another county that already was issuing licenses, Newton said they wanted to do it in Los Alamos, her hometown.
“For me, it was very important for it to be a Los Alamos County license,” she said. “It has a lot of power for anybody who is connected to the community that your community recognizes that it is important to view you as equal.”
The hearing was held a day after Raphaelson ordered Stover to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples or appear before the court to explain why she wouldn’t.
In refusing to issue the licenses, Los Alamos became the first New Mexico county to defy a court order on same-sex marriage.
Los Alamos County Attorney Rebecca Ehler, who represented Stover at the hearing, first asked the judge for a stay in the matter, citing another case in Bernalillo County that addresses the same issue.
“Whatever is decided here would not resolve the many issues regarding the gay marriage issue,” she said. “The Bernalillo case does.”
Santa Fe attorney Brian Egolf, representing Newton and Thibodeau, argued that staying the case would call for speculation that the New Mexico Supreme Court would soon rule on the matter.
“To ask for a stay on the grounds the Supreme Court may act is not fair,” he said. “Issuing licenses in Los Alamos County would be adding to the list of those (counties) who already have and brings no harm to anyone.”