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Doña Ana County clerk starts issuing same-gender marriage licenses

By Vanessa de la Viña, vanessa@kvia.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 02:48:50 AM CST
Updated On: Jan 16 2014 11:59:55 AM CST

ABC-7's Vanessa de la Vina reports.

Las Cruces, N.M. -

Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins has announced that his office is now issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples.

Ellins said that he has been considering issuing licenses since last June, when New Mexico Attorney General Gary King issued a position paper stating that New Mexico's ban on issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples is unconstitutional. Since then, the attorney general -- in a legal brief to the New Mexico Supreme Court has refused to defend the ban and has asked the Supreme Court to declare New Mexico's prohibition of same-gender marriage unconstitutional under the state's constitution.

Last week, Ellins said, the New Mexico Supreme Court declined to issue a ruling sought by attorneys for same-gender couples seeking marriage licenses from the county clerks in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties. Instead, the Supreme Court sent these matters back to the lower courts for an initial review on the merits.

“That means it could be many months or years before the matter is resolved,” Ellins said. “In the meantime, I am mindful that I took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the State of New Mexico as Doña Ana County Clerk. I am an attorney, and I have read the AG’s opinion, and I find it to be sound. After careful review of New Mexico's laws it is clear that the state's marriage statutes are gender neutral and do not expressly prohibit Doña Ana County from issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Any further denial of marriage licenses to these couples violates the United States and New Mexico Constitution and the New Mexico Human Rights Act. Doña Ana County is upholding New Mexico law by issuing these marriage licenses, and I see no reason to make committed couples in Doña Ana County wait another minute to marry.”

Ellins said couples requesting marriage license will no longer be turned down, and starting today, licenses will be issued at the Doña Ana County Government Center For information about New Mexico marriage license requirements, call the Doña Ana County Clerk’s Office at (575) 647-7421.

More than 40 same-sex couples received marriage licenses at the county government building on Wednesday. That same day, 31 of them got married.

"I'm in shock almost. I'm in shock this is happening. It's obviously what we've wanted. We've been together for 13 years," said K. Grey Carrillo, who rushed to get a marriage license.

"It happened so suddenly. We heard the news this morning when Bob Harp announced breaking news. We immediately started to get dressed and get ready to get over here," said Orlando Antonio Jimenez, Carrillo's partner.

Couples were driving in from throughout parts of New Mexico and even parts of Texas.

"Definitely the biggest day of my life. We've been waiting for this day for almost 10 years now. We have three children that now get to have parents that are married," said Vanessa Ramirez, who went from the county building straight to a church to get married.

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King made the following points Wednesday regarding the Doña Ana County Clerk's intent to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples:

  • We previously advised that it was not a good idea to issue the marriage licenses to same sex couples due to the uncertain status of state law.
  • We do not have authority over county clerks in NM.
  • We do not intend to bring any action against the Doña Ana County Clerk.
  • Our position that the current law is unconstitutional remains unchanged and presents a barrier for us to bring any sort of court action now that would stop him from issuing the marriage licenses.  As the situation evolves, we will determine our response at the appropriate time.
  • It is a lot safer course for same sex couples to wait until the NM Supreme Court rules before moving forward.

The three Roman Catholic dioceses of New Mexico released the following statement: "Today the Doña Ana County Clerk announced that his office would begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This is a significant matter that affects society at large and as such is one that is best decided through the legislative branch of government, and, in absence of its action, by the judicial branch. There are cases currently in process to be heard and decided by the New Mexico State Supreme Court. The legislative process (and the judicial, to a lesser degree) at the state government not only allows appropriate public debate on the issue but provides definitive legal direction for the state.

We, the Catholic bishops of New Mexico, reiterate our previous statement on same-sex marriage: "[the] tradition of marriage between one man and one woman comes to us not only from the Judeo-Christian tradition, but it has been witnessed in cultures throughout the world for many millennia." We believe this institution of marriage to be 'unique and irreplaceable,' for 'only does the sexual union of a man and woman bring forth children.'"

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