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New Mexico Supreme Court hears arguments on same-sex marriage

Published On: Oct 24 2013 09:51:21 AM CDT
Updated On: Jan 16 2014 06:20:01 PM CST

ABC-7's Vanessa de la Vi?a reports.

SANTA FE, N.M. -

The debate on same-sex marriage in New Mexico has been heating up for months.

When county clerks throughout the state started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, people demanded answers.

Wednesday's hearing at the state Supreme Court building was the first step in getting those answers.

More than 150 people packed the building for the hearing. The building was filled to capacity.

"The marriage statutes viewed comprehensively and in harmony can reach only one conclusion: that marriage in this state is the union of a man and a woman," said James Campbell, an attorney representing a group of Republican state legislators.

Campbell made the argument that the reason why government got into the marriage process was to encourage heterosexual couples to procreate. The justices asked him to show which state statute supported that. Campbell said there are none. He pointed to cases in other states to support that argument.

Campbell also said that allowing same-sex marriage would cause heterosexual couples to stop getting married and having children. The justices asked him to show them what data or evidence supported that. Campbell pointed to a study done in the Netherlands that showed the marriage rate dropped after same-sex marriage was legalized. He admitted they could not prove that legalizing same-sex marriage caused that but said they were "rational concerns."

On the other side of the argument, Maureen Sanders represented the American Civil Liberties Union and six same-sex couples who were involved in a lawsuit in the state.

"The fundamental interest that marriage protects is the right to have your relationship recognized by the government and to enjoy those benefits statutes provide to those who are able to get married," Sanders said in court.

Sanders pointed to several cases where courts allowed new parts of the population like interracial couples and inmates to get married.

"The court said there is a fundamental right to marry and it applies to all individiausl. They did not identify a new fundamental right to interracial marriage but rather upheld the existing right to marry," Sanders said.

The justices asked if the court at that point meant all individuals merely as heterosexual couples. Sanders said that does not matter in this court case.

Sanders said same-sex couples deserve all the same rights and benefits as heterosexual couples. She argued that denying that is discrimination, which is protected under the state constitution.

The biggest debate is over the ambiguity of the state constitution. The constitution is not gender-specific, stating that marriage is a union between two people.

After more than two hours of arguments, people on both side of the issues felt the court leaned in favor of same-sex marriage.

"It makes me feel very uncomfortable because I think there are huge consequences that can come from that. For those of my view it is contrary to scripture. I'm going to follow God's word not some court decision that I think is thumbing its nose at God's word," said Duncan Lanum from the St. Thomas the Apostle Episcopal Church.

"I think the opponents had a difficult time articulating a compelling state interest to prohibit same-gender marriages. That's a task they were required to fulfill. I think the court was skeptical of their reasoning," said Lynn Ellins, the county clerk in Doña Ana County.

Ellins was the first county clerk in the state to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples this year. Seven counties in New Mexico followed him by issuing marriage licenses. More than 1,000 same-sex couples have been issued marriage licenses since then.

The court did not make a ruling on Wednesday. They said this is an important issue that needs to be discussed. It could be weeks or months before a decision is made.

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