The issue of same-sex marriage has been steadily gaining momentum among legislators and civil rights groups in New Mexico over the past few months, and on Thursday New Mexico Attorney General Gary King issued a statement regarding the history, current status, and his opinion on the matter, recognizing its importance and even paving the way for new hopes that it would be recognized by the state.
New Mexico is unique in regards to the legality of same-sex marriage because it is the only state in the country that does not have laws explicitly recognizing or prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriage.
According to the New Mexico Constitution, marriage is "a civil contract, for which the consent of contracting parties, capable in law of contracting, is essential." There is no explicit mention of gender, and this ambiguity is the main source of contention in legal battles and public opinion.
The "trigger" of this debate, according to King, was the case of Griego v. Oliver in March 2013, in which the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed a lawsuit on behalf of two same-sex couples after the couples applied for and were denied marriage licenses. More specifically, the plaintiffs sought "a court order that it's unlawful to deny same-sex couples the right to marry." The status of this lawsuit is still pending.
Similarly, following King's statement on Thursday, longtime partners Alexander Hanna and Yon Hudson filed a lawsuit against the Santa Fe County Clerk for denying them a marriage license when they applied for one earlier that day. The lawsuit was not specifically directed against the clerk, however. According to Kate Ferlic, Hanna and Hudson's lawyer, the lawsuit was simply "meant to be the means by which they get the legal clarification they need to proceed with issuing licenses."
"We believe that the clerk, like other public officials in New Mexico, supports the issuance of marriage licenses to all loving couples who wish to get married," added Ferlic, hinting at a positive atmosphere surrounding same-sex marriage in the state.
Indeed, Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar, said in March, "I would love to be able to issue marriage licenses [to same-sex couples], but under the current law, I feel I'm not free and clear to do so ... The Legislature creates the laws and the judges interpret the laws, and I, as a county clerk, do not create or interpret laws."
Attorney General King also acknowledged in his statement his personal support of legalizing same-sex marriage: "If I had the authority to overrule the statutory scheme that is out there I'd certainly consider doing that." However, he lacks the force of law to do so; the decision ultimately "resides in the Legislature and the courts."
On the other hand, Governor Susana Martinez, has repeatedly blocked efforts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples, as she believes marriage ought to be solely between man and woman.
A recent poll also showed that 51% of New Mexicans believes that same-sex marriage should be made illegal, as opposed to 44% who support it. However, a majority — 63% — of younger New Mexicans are in favor of legalizing marriage for same-sex couples.
As New Mexican City Councilor Patti Bushee said, "We all love weddings ... Let's have more of them." Considering the unique nature of the New Mexican Constitution and ample support within the state, the path of equal rights for same-sex couples of New Mexico will certainly be an interesting one to follow.