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Roosevelt County clerk, deputy quit over gay marriage

Roosevelt County Deputy Clerk Janet Collins

COLLINS: Deputy clerk also resigns over ruling

Roosevelt County Clerk Donna Carpenter

CARPENTER: Clerk didn’t want to let down voters

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Roosevelt County clerk and her deputy resigned Friday to avoid issuing same-sex marriage licenses as required by the New Mexico Supreme Court’s landmark opinion Thursday legalizing same-sex marriage statewide.

County Clerk Donna Carpenter, an elected Republican, and Chief Deputy Clerk Janet Collins told other officials of the eastside New Mexico county that they were leaving their jobs because they disagreed with the unanimous Supreme Court ruling.

They personally opposed issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, Commissioner Jake Lopez said.

The county clerk “said she would rather resign because she wasn’t going to provide any licenses to people who marry like that,” said Lopez, a Democrat.

“She feels pretty serious about it,” he said. “I had no idea she would quit. She hadn’t even mentioned that she would quit if that would happen. I think everybody expected it (the Supreme Court decision) to go the other way.”

On Friday, Carpenter told the Portales News-Tribune she could not issue same-sex marriage licenses and have “a clear conscience.”

“I felt like I’d be letting down the majority of people who voted for me,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter could not be reached by the Journal for comment Friday. Collins did not return calls for comment.

The five-member Roosevelt County Commission scheduled an emergency meeting for Monday morning to appoint a replacement clerk. That appointee will serve the remainder of Carpenter’s term, through 2014.

Lopez said Roosevelt County planned to comply with the state Supreme Court decision that made New Mexico the 17th U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage.

“We have to abide by the law,” Lopez said.

Before the Supreme Court decision, eight New Mexico counties – not including Roosevelt – had begun licensing same-sex couples to wed, either voluntarily or by order of a lower court. In total, about 1,400 gay and lesbian weddings had taken place in New Mexico before Thursday’s ruling from Santa Fe.

Roosevelt County Manager Charlene Webb said the clerk’s office was temporarily closed Friday but plans to reopen Monday when a new clerk is appointed.

“What we have discovered when you don’t have a county clerk nor a chief deputy, legally you’re not able to conduct business,” Webb said. “… It’s unfortunate that our services had to stop for our citizens, but we’re doing our best to not delay that any longer than we have to.”

Commissioner Richard Leal, a Republican, said he had no hard feelings about the decision of the clerk to resign from her office on short notice.

“I hate to see her go this way, but everybody has their own opinions,” Leal said.

Daniel Ivey-Soto, the attorney who represented county clerks’ appeal to the state Supreme Court seeking clarification of a lower court ruling on the legality of same-sex marriage, said he respected Carpenter’s decision to resign from her office rather than violate the law by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Roosevelt County.

“Donna and Janet are finding themselves in a position where they did not feel they could comply with the Supreme Court. They did the right thing by resigning,” said Ivey-Soto, a Democratic state senator from Albuquerque. “They recognized that being a county clerk means following the law.”

County clerks around the state Friday discussed in a conference call plans to change marriage license forms to remove references to applicants’ gender, as directed by the Supreme Court.

Ivey-Soto said he was unaware whether other county clerks planned to resign over the decision.