SANTA FE, N.M. — “I’m ecstatic,” said former Santa Fe city attorney Geno Zamora.
“It’s very, very sweet,” Mayor David Coss exclaimed.
“Thrilled” was the word used by City Councilor Patti Bushee.
They were reacting to the state Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday that it’s unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
The high court’s decision came nine months after Coss and Bushee introduced a Santa Fe City Council resolution taking the position that same-sex marriage was already legal under the state constitution – based on a legal opinion by Zamora – and calling on county clerks to begin issuing licenses for gay marriages.
The resolution, which had no legal or binding effect but prompted a vigorous public debate and attracted statewide attention, was adopted by a divided City Council in April.
That was the start of a deluge of events – some clerks began issuing licenses for gay and lesbian couples and a couple of crucial lower-court decisions – that put the issue before the Supreme Court.
“Everything we’d heard was that we were years away from a decision,” Coss said Thursday, “and now here we are.”
“Today’s decision of the New Mexico Supreme Court reinforces my faith in the New Mexico judicial system and in my City of Holy Faith,” said Bushee, who is openly gay.
Javier Gonzales, the former state Democratic Party chairman who, like Bushee, is running to succeed Coss as Santa Fe mayor and himself recently came out as gay, said in a statement, “I stand even prouder as a New Mexican today in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold same-sex marriage rights throughout the Land of Enchantment.”
Coss said he “definitely” believes the council resolution helped lead to the Supreme Court decision, “along with some courageous county clerks and a lot of effort for years by the LGTB community and their families and allies.”
Coss said he gives “a lot of credit” to Zamora, who recently took a new job with the Santa Fe schools, for his opinion providing a legal basis for same-sex marriages in New Mexico.
“I’m proud that Mayor Coss authorized me to issue an official opinion on this,” Zamora said Thursday.
He added that he remembers being asked at a news conference what effect a city attorney’s opinion could have on a civil rights issue. “The effect we could have was to raise the discussion,” said Zamora, who celebrated Thursday night with about 100 others, including Bushee.
Not everyone involved in the Santa Fe debate over gay marriage was happy Thursday.
J.D. Vasquez, who helped lead religious-based opposition to the City Council resolution, provided this statement Thursday:
“In upholding the rights of a small, well-funded and well-organized minority, the New Mexico Supreme Court has denied the ‘right of conscience’ to innumerable New Mexicans who disagree with same-sex ‘marriage.’
“We continue to see an eradication of the rights of Christians seeking to live Christian lives.
“Marriage, which follows natural law, establishes family solidity, provides the best environment for raising children and guarantees the next generation. Its delegitimization by redefinition guarantees none of those things.”
The first couple to get a Santa Fe County marriage license for a same-sex marriage in August, Linda Siegle and Liz Stefanics, were vacationing at a beach resort in Mexico when they got the news of the Supreme Court decision. “I’m really excited it has occurred. There were so many people waiting for this,” Stefanics said.
“Liz and I are certainly delighted to see the court uphold our marriage,” Siegle said. “I thought it was significant that all five judges reached a unanimous decision.
Stefanics is a former state senator and current Santa Fe County commissioner; Siegle is a lobbyist for Equality New Mexico and other clients and a board member for Santa Fe Community College. They have been together for 23 years.
They said they thought marriage equality would come, but not quite so soon. “I’m surprised it happened so fast – although to many people this wasn’t so fast,” Siegle said.
Stefanics said she expected it to come in 20 or 30 years, “but I didn’t think it would happen before we died.”
“I think what will happen now is this will give all gays and lesbians the opportunity, for the cost of a marriage license, to have the protections and responsibilities of a marriage license,” Siegle said. “A lot of us have spent thousands of dollars getting trust documents and power of attorney to protect ourselves and each other.”
“For younger couples who want children, this is going to be great,” Stefanics added.
She said people ask her if she feels any different now that she and Siegle are married. “Not really – but there is security and a sense of serious bonding, in our minds probably forever,” she said. “We’ve settled in for the long haul.”
Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar, who began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in August under a judge’s show-cause order, called the Supreme Court decision “great news.”
“It is a relief to know that Santa Fe County is now in compliance at the state level with regards to issuing same-gender marriage licenses,” she said.
Bushee said the Supreme Court’s decision should help continue a boost to the Santa Fe economy as out-of-state gay couples come to the City Different to get married. Salazar said that of 561 gay marriage licenses her office has issued since August, at least 209 were for couples from out-of-state. Eighty-five couples were from Texas, 40 were from Colorado and 18 were from Oklahoma.
“I’ve sort of been having to act as a wedding planner, with people calling me asking how to get married here,” Bushee said. “I think I’m going to start a business as a wedding planner.”