N.M.'s same-sex weddings over, but newlyweds remain grateful

BY admin

February 24 2004 1:00 AM ET

The honeymoon is still on for Helene and Nancy Greenspan as they planned to tell Sandoval County, N.M., commissioners how grateful they were for the chance to marry--even if it wasn't legal. A special commission meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon gave 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.

Sandoval County commission chairman Daymon Ely said the special meeting was called to question Dunlap about her decision, which Ely termed "totally irresponsible." The meeting was set before Madrid's advisory letter arrived Friday afternoon. "I don't care what side people are on the issue," Ely said. "This is a state matter that one county clerk should not be deciding." The commission has little disciplinary power over Dunlap. Commissioners could direct the county attorney to seek a temporary restraining order, but Ely said he did not think it would come to that since Dunlap had halted the nuptials.

Ely deplored the needless emotional toll on the many would-be marital partners. Sixty-six couples had filed for marriage applications, and more were in line outside Dunlap's office when Madrid's letter stopped the licenses. "My heart really goes out to these people," Ely said. "Here you had people's hopes raised. Then, a few hours later, they're dashed. I think it's irresponsible for an elected official to do that to people."

But there was little disappointment in Helene Greenspan's voice. "Between the state and God and Nance and I, we are married.... [Dunlap] took a huge brave step for people who should have equal rights," the Rio Rancho retiree said. Dunlap, described by many as a conservative Republican, said last week it was time to find out how people felt about the issue and resolve it. She said state law is vague. "A lot of the couples are going to be at the county commission meeting for public comment" said Linda Siegle, a lobbyist representing the Coalition for Equality in New Mexico, a gay rights group.

Gov. Bill Richardson, who opposes same-sex marriage, was queried about the Sandoval County flap during a national television appearance Sunday with other governors on Fox News Sunday. Asked if he would support a constitutional amendment to clear up the issue, Richardson said it was something for the states to decide. "What I think is, the state should decide, the court should decide, and we don't need the sacred Constitution being dealt with again on an issue that is so divisive and an issue that doesn't belong in the Constitution," he said, referring to the U.S. Constitution.

Opponents, including church officials and some Republican lawmakers, have complained that same-sex marriage runs contrary to state law, raises moral questions, and undermines the value of marriage between a man and woman. In her letter Friday, Madrid advised that state law, as she reads it, limits marriage in New Mexico to a man and a woman and that no county clerk should issue a marriage license to same-sex couples. Madrid's office plans nothing further unless requested, spokeswoman Sam Thompson said Sunday. Friday's letter was to Sen. Tim Jennings (D-Roswell), who had sought legal advice.

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