The New Mexico county clerk who first began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in August — a decision that contributed to the state's supreme court declaring such unions legal statewide in a separate case — took a step to help protect the state's newly enacted marriage equality law on Friday.
Doña Ana county clerk Lynn Ellins will be donating the leftover funds he raised to defend his decision against those opposed to marriage equality, to a statewide equality organization called New Mexico Unites for Marriage Equality, reports the Las Cruces Sun-News.
After anti-equality forces filed a lawsuit intended to halt marriage equality in New Mexico, Ellins collected private donations at his county office to fund his legal defense in state district court, citing the controversial nature of his decision. Pro-LGBT organization ProgressNow of New Mexico set up a website at EqualityDonaAnaCounty.com to support the effort, raising more than $33,000 from 647 donors, according to the Sun-News. That money, in addition to the roughly $3,000 that came in through private donations mailed to or brought in person to Ellins' office, was placed in a trust account set up by Ellins' attorney.
The Doña Ana case was placed on hold in district court, pending a resolution on the issue from the state's highest court on a different marriage equality case, filed a lesbian couple seeking the right to marry. After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality on December 19, Ellins' case was dismissed by the lower court.
After paying his legal expenses, which the Sun-News reports totaled $31,759, Ellins estimated there were "a few thousand dollars" leftover in the trust. And on Friday, Ellins announced in a press release that he'll be donating the balance of that trust to New Mexico Unites for Marriage Equality.
The pro-equality organization said in a statement that it plans to use the funds to prepare a defense against an anticipated effort to amend the state's constitution to restrict marriage to one man and one woman.
"We did the right thing at the right time by issuing the licenses last August, and we're doing the right thing now by donating the balance of our legal-defense fund to the coalition that stood beside us while we waited for the Supreme Court to make its determination," Ellins said in a press release Friday.
"New Mexico Unites for Marriage is grateful for County Clerk Ellins' unwavering support for the freedom to marry in New Mexico," the New Mexico Unites for Marriage Equality's campaign manager, Robert Adams, said in an email to the Sun-News. "His recent contribution will strengthen New Mexico Unites for Marriage, as we continue the campaign to protect marriage for all New Mexicans."