N.M. clerk explains why she issued same-sex marriage licenses
February 24 2004 1:00 AM ET
The honeymoon is still on for Helene and Nancy Greenspan, as they told Sandoval County, N.M., commissioners on Monday how grateful they were for the chance to marry--even if it wasn't legal. A special commission meeting was held to give them and others the chance to comment on county clerk Victoria Dunlap's move last week to issue same-sex marriage licenses--a mass-marriage celebration cut short by word from state attorney general Patricia Madrid that the marriages were all invalid, null, and void. Monday, however, is still "a big, big day," Helene said of the commission meeting. "Even if it doesn't work this time, it's a big step forward," she said.
Dunlap, who did not attend the meeting, said she will still allow the same-sex couples to record the marriages that stemmed from those licenses. "I cannot deny them," she said, adding that if a couple was married in front of a minister, the license-recording portion of the process is more of a formality. By 2 p.m., five couples who were issued licenses Friday came in Monday and had them recorded, the clerk's office reported.
Dozens of gay and lesbian couples showed up at the Sandoval County courthouse Monday to talk with commissioners. Sheriff's deputies, who normally do not stand guard at commission meetings, were posted in the hallway outside the meeting room, which has a capacity of about 100 people. The same-sex couples had traveled last week to the sleepy farming town of Bernalillo along the Rio Grande because it was the only clerk's office in New Mexico issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Dunlap declined to elaborate further on her reasons for her decision to issue the licenses. She had said Friday that county attorney David Mathews advised that New Mexico marriage law is gender-neutral and a refusal to issue same-sex licenses might generate lawsuits. County commissioner Jack E. Thomas pointed Monday to Madrid's letter calling Friday's marriages null and void, "so there's no sense in recording something that is void." He suggested instead: "You might want to come back in and get your money back."
Dunlap, in fact, was offering refunds. "We as a commission have got to say it's not Sandoval County's job to say yea or nay" to same-sex marriage, Thomas said. "It's a state position, and it needs to be handled by the state." Dunlap said "a few" licensees had come back Monday morning to record their marriages despite Madrid's advisory letter.
In all, 40 of the 66 people who received licenses did not get a chance to have them recorded Friday before Madrid's letter called a halt to the licensing process. While Mathews had indicated a certain gender vagueness about state law, Madrid's letter said laws relating to marriage in New Mexico had several references to marriage as being between a man and woman, male and female. "That's all I needed to know," Dunlap said of the letter. "I couldn't turn people away until I had something definitive."