N.M. high court extends stay on issuance of marriage licenses

BY admin

April 02 2004 1:00 AM ET

The New Mexico supreme court has extended a stay on the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples, halting a county clerk's plan to begin issuing those licenses beginning Friday, but her lawyer said the clerk may proceed as soon as a judge can be found. Without elaborating, the high court unanimously ruled on Wednesday that the temporary restraining order would remain in effect until a state district court could rule on the merits of the case. Both sides said they were pleased with the court's decision. "In essence, the relief I sought has been granted. It means the case will proceed in an orderly fashion," Attorney General Patricia Madrid said, adding that whatever decision is made probably will be appealed.

Madrid had sought a stay halting Sandoval County clerk Victoria Dunlap's plan to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples beginning Friday, when the restraining order issued by state district judge Kenneth Brown was to expire. Brown then withdrew from the case, leaving open the possibility that the order might expire and that the issuance of marriage licenses might resume. Paul Livingston, who represents Dunlap, said, "The supreme court's decision gives us a chance to cool the rhetoric and see this case--the issuance of marriage licenses without gender bias--more rationally [as] a measure of process under the law." According to Livingston, the temporary restraining order won't be a problem. "It's going to go away with very little difficulties...once we get before a district judge," Livingston said. "I've already filed a motion to dismiss it." He acknowledged that it's unlikely a judge could be selected by Monday, adding that it's probably for the best because now everyone involved can proceed in a more orderly manner.

Under state law, a new judge from Sandoval, Cibola, or Valencia county would be chosen to replace Brown. The new judge would be selected by computer April 12 and assigned by the court clerk--unless all parties can agree on a judge, thus expediting the appointment. Dunlap issued marriage licenses to 66 same-sex couples on February 20 and was about to issue more on March 23, when state and county attorneys asked Judge Brown for the restraining order.

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