New Mexico's highest court heard oral arguments Wednesday in a historic case that could decide whether same-sex marriage is legal in all counties across the state. One of the key issues is what the fundamental right to marry consists of.
Justices, and lawyers from both sides, agreed that a fundamental right to marry does exist under state law, but that's where the agreement stopped short.
Jim Campbell, the lawyer for nearly a dozen current and former legislators who oppose same-sex marriage explained his clients believe the right to marry is the right of a person to marry someone of the opposite sex.
Justice Richard Bosson brought up the Loving v. Virginia ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. That landmark case struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Justice Bosson explained that that ruling established an individual's right to marry a person of their choice regardless of race.
Campbell responded that according to the U.S Supreme Court, fundamental rights are to be described in detail. "If this court were to adopt a very broad understanding of the fundamental right to marry," Campbell argued, "it would threaten not only the gendered definition of marriage, it would threaten other well established limitations on marriage..."
Several justices, including Bosson, interrupted Campbell to ask if he was referring to polygamy.
"I think as a matter of logic," Campbell continued, "it would threaten that limitation as well."
Maureen Sanders, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the case, same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses, also discussed the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Loving v. Virginia. She said the ruling didn't create a new fundamental right to interracial marriage, but rather upheld the existing fundamental right to marry.
Chief Justice Petra Jimenez Maes questioned Sanders about language in that ruling that referred to 'free men,' and Sanders responded that it was antiquated language.
"I think that today's reading of Loving v. Virginia would in fact recognize that the fact that it was a right that was enjoyed by certain parts of the population, that all parts of that population should be engaged in that right to marry in this case."
Justice Maes continued her questioning. "Does it make any difference if they were talking about a marriage between a man and a woman?"
"It does not make any difference in this case, your honor," Sanders clarified.
The New Mexico Supreme Court did not make a ruling in the case today and did not announce when a ruling could be expected. Some legal observers say it could be quicker than the usual few months.
Currently, eight out of 33 New Mexico counties are providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.