County in New Mexico issues same-sex marriage licenses
February 21 2004 12:00 AM ET
Sandoval County, N.M., is issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to the county clerk. "This has nothing to do with politics or morals," Victoria Dunlap said Thursday. She said her office is not aware of any laws prohibiting the licenses from being issued for same-sex couples. "If there are no legal grounds that say this should be prohibited, I can't withhold it," Dunlap added. "This office won't say no until shown it's not permissible." Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund reported that at least one couple had been issued a marriage license in the county on Friday.
Dunlap said she made the decision after asking for an opinion from David Mathews, the county's attorney. Mathews said New Mexico law is not clear on the issue. He said he was concerned that refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples could open the county to legal liability. State law defines marriage as a civil contract between contracting parties; it does not mention gender. The only law that mentions gender is a 1961 statute that created the form used for marriage licenses. It asks for information about the male and female applicants. But the Equal Rights Act of 1973 outlaws discrimination based on sex, Mathews said. The state attorney general's office never has been asked for an opinion on the issue, said Sam Thompson, spokeswoman for Attorney General Patricia Madrid.
Dunlap said she would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until Sandoval County receives a legal opinion from the attorney general. Mathews said he did not want Sandoval County to become a test case for same-sex marriage in New Mexico and that the county does not have a position on
the issue. "This is a statewide issue, and we need some guidance," he said. Clerks in Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties said they would not issue same-sex marriage licenses. "My position is, I took an oath to uphold the law, not change the law," said Rebeca Bustamante, Santa Fe County clerk. "I wouldn't do it, because I just don't think I can." Mary Herrera, Bernalillo County clerk, said she has no plans to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She cited the 1961 law.