Talks continuing in New Mexico gay marriage dispute

BY admin

December 16 2004 12:00 AM ET

Sandoval County, N.M., clerk Victoria Dunlap and state attorney general Patricia Madrid have reached a tentative settlement in their dispute over same-sex marriage. However, neither side would discuss details of the tentative agreement, reached during court-ordered mediation last month.

The dispute began after Dunlap issued marriage licenses to about 60 same-sex couples on February 20. She stopped issuing the licenses late in the day after receiving an advisory letter from Madrid that said such licenses were illegal. Dunlap, a Republican, contends state law does not prohibit same-sex marriage and that not allowing those couples to marry violates their civil rights and is unfair.

State district judge Kenneth Brown, who has since retired, issued a temporary restraining order against Dunlap at Madrid's request to prevent her from granting any more marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The order remains in effect.

The state supreme court, in a one-page order dated July 8 without comment, rejected Dunlap's request to let her issue more marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The following month, Dunlap--who leaves office December 31--went to a district judge in an effort to resume issuing the licenses. State district judge Louis McDonald rejected her request but ordered the two sides into mediation to try to resolve their differences before beginning the process of preparing for a trial.

They met November 19 to discuss a settlement in a session mediated by retired state supreme court justice Gene Franchini.

"I think we reached a tentative agreement," Dunlap's attorney, Paul Livingston, said Monday. "I would love to talk about it, but the judge has sworn us to secrecy in writing." He said a trial likely would be unnecessary. The mediation process continues, said Madrid's spokeswoman, Sam Thompson. "There really is no time line or deadline on it," she said. The attorney general is not asking the court to invalidate the licenses Dunlap issued.

Deputy attorney general Chris Coppin told McDonald earlier this year that the state was seeking only to clarify the role of the county clerk under state law. Former Sandoval County clerk Sally Padilla will succeed Dunlap on January 1. Padilla said during her campaign that she would not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

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