New Mexico's highest court legalized same-sex marriage today, unanimously declaring it unconstitutional to deny a marriage license to gay and lesbian couples.
New Mexico joins 16 states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay marriage.
"The important thing is," said Peter Simonson, the Executive Director of the ACLU-New Mexico, "from this moment on, right now, same-sex couples can walk into any County Clerk's Office in the state of New Mexico and be sure that they will be married. That's their choice."
Laura Schawer Ives, Legal Director at the ACLU-New Mexico, said the court’s announcement right before the holidays is a tremendous gift to same-sex couples who may have had questions about the validity of their marriages.
"The court explains we are talking about the denial of fundamental rights and discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or race or gender," Schawer said, "that those things cannot be put up to a vote."
But Republican State Senator Bill Sharer is looking to do just that. In a statement, the lawmaker said he was disappointed in the high court’s ruling. Sharer said the response to the court’s ruling that denying marriage to same-sex couples is unconstitutional is to “make it constitutional.”
Sharer plans to introduce a constitutional amendment during next year’s legislative session that would define marriage as between one man and one woman. If passed, the amendment would go before voters for approval.
“The State Supreme Court had its say today," Sharer continued in the statement. "But, have hope, do not despair, it is not necessarily the final word. New Mexico voters have the final say. If they don’t like the ruling, voters have options. Voters can change the State Supreme Court judges, they can change their State Legislators, and New Mexico voters could vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage is between a man and a woman, as it has been since our culture was formed.”
The court’s ruling ends years of confusion over whether same-sex marriage is legal in New Mexico. State statutes don't explicitly prohibit or authorize gay marriage.
County clerks historically have denied marriage licenses to same-sex couples because the law includes a marriage license application with sections for male and female applicants.
But earlier this year, eight of the state's 33 counties started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples when a county clerk in southern New Mexico independently decided to allow the unions.