New Mexico Supreme Court Declares Statewide Marriage Equality

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com December 19 2013 1:41 PM ET

In a landmark decision, the New Mexico Supreme Court declared that marriage rights must be extended to same-sex couples throughout the state. 

The state's highest court unanimously ruled that denying committed same-sex couples the right to marry violated the Equal Protection clause of the New Mexico constitution. 

"We hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law," reads the ruling.

The court rejected the argument presented by marriage equality opponents that the state had a legitimate governmental interest in "responsible procreation and childrearing," declaring that supposed interest "is not reflected in the history of the development of New Mexico's marriage laws. Procreation has never been a condition of marriage under New Mexico law, as evidenced by the fact that the aged, the infertile, and those who choose not to have children are not precluded from marrying. In addition, New Mexico law recognizes the right of same-gender couples to raise children."

The unanimous decision orders all county clerks in the state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and also confirms the legal validity of the unions of same-sex couples who married in New Mexico prior to today's decision, after officials in several counties began issuing marriage licenses to them. 

“This truly is a historic and joyful day for New Mexico, said Laura Schauer Ives, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, one of the groups that represented the six same-sex couples in the case before the court, along with the national ACLU and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “As a state, we have always strived to treat all families with dignity and respect, and today’s decision allowing loving, committed same sex couples to marry continues that tradition. The more than 1,000 same-sex couples who have already married in New Mexico can now rest certain knowing their marriages will be recognized and respected by our state.”

Added NCLR legal director Shannon Minter: “Today’s decision by the  New Mexico Supreme Court is a powerful affirmation that same-sex couples are equal members of New Mexico’s diverse culture and must be given the same legal protections and respect as other families. With this ruling, New Mexico joins 16 other states, the District of Columbia, and at least eight Native American tribes that permit same-sex couples to marry. This is an important day, not only for New Mexico, but for the entire country.” 

“The court is entirely correct that denying lesbian and gay couples the same rights as everyone else is fundamentally unjust,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin in a statement. “Regardless of where you live, all people should have the ability to marry the person they love, and now the legislature must not do anything to turn back the clock in the Land of Enchantment.”

Eight of New Mexico's 33 counties began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in mid-August, when a Doña Ana County clerk began marrying those couples, saying he didn't believe the state's marriage statutes expressly prohibited same-sex marriage and that it was unconstitutional to deny gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. 

Later in August, a district judge in Santa Fe ruled that the state’s constitution did not preclude same-sex couples from marrying. A district judge in Bernalillo County affirmed this ruling, agreeing that denying marriage equality violates key provisions in the state’s constitution on equality and gender-based discrimination.