Ted Eudy and Dwight Holden were one of more than 18,000 gay couples married in California in 2008, during the brief period when the state allowed gay marriage. But the rights that come along with that marriage only count in California, and Eudy and Holden really want to stay in Santa Fe.
Eudy, a veterinarian, and Holden, a physician, say they’ve spent thousands of dollars on various legal measures to cement their status as a couple, but they still worry about rights as fundamental as being able to visit each other in the hospital.
“We never go anywhere without those documents in our bags because you never know where you’re going to run into a situation in which the validity of our relationship is questioned,” Holden says. “It’s a constant fear for us.”
In 2007, during the administration of former Gov. Bill Richardson, advocates worked hard to pass a bill that would give legal rights to gay couples in New Mexico. That measure failed. Then, in 2009, Catholic bishops came out against a domestic partnership bill, and 10 Democrats joined Republicans in voting against it.
Although some blame the Catholic church for defeating the bill and criticize the church as anti-gay, Allen Sanchez, the executive director of the Conference of Catholic Bishops, says that’s not fair.
Sanchez points out that the Catholic church was a strong supporter of protecting sexual orientation under New Mexico anti-discrimination laws and has taken a progressive stance on issues such as the death penalty, poverty, health care and workers’ rights. But marriage, Sanchez says, is part of the Church’s home turf.
“It’s not about the people. It’s about what we consider the institution of marriage for the church,” he says. Whereas New Mexico bishops had previously remained neutral on a bill that would have guaranteed some rights for gay couples, Sanchez says the domestic partnership bill was seen as simply too close to marriage.
“We have rules,” he says, “very old rules.”
The government has rules, too, and the thousands of rights and benefits afforded under legal marriage can’t be replicated.
“As a society, we provide a whole bunch of incentives for people to marry: You can file your taxes together, you inherit automatically and you can always put your husband or wife on your health insurance,” Nathalie Martin, a University of New Mexico law professor, tells SFR. “But no gay couple can enjoy any of those benefits in New Mexico.”
That doesn’t mean gay couples should give up. Santa Fe lawyer Ralph Scheuer says gay couples make up 15 to 20 percent of his estate planning clients—and that there’s plenty they can do to protect their partnerships.
Gay clients have to think about the same things straight clients do, Scheuer notes. That means planning for retirement, worrying about a permanent disability and deciding who’s going to inherit what when you die.
Scheuer lists three major areas on which couples should focus. First, he says, setting up health care plans and powers of attorney can enable domestic partners to act as married people do in basic transactions.
Second, since gay couples in New Mexico have no legal structure for dealing with financial assets in the event of death, separation or disability, Scheuer stresses the importance of managing money.
Finally, Scheuer says, many gay and lesbian couples have children from current or previous relationships, so they must not only navigate custody, but also plan for inheritance.
In order to gain some of the benefits they would have if they lived in California, Eudy and Holden have worked with lawyers, including Scheuer, to take advantage of existing law as much as possible. They have a domestic partner agreement, living wills, power of attorney and a legal will that clearly specifies how their estate should be handled.
But it’s not all about nuts and bolts: Eudy and Holden say having a wedding was also important to them for emotional reasons.
“It was a symbolic gesture of our commitment—and we have a marriage license. That means something to us, even though we’re not recognized here,” Holden says.
Living in a state that doesn’t technically allow gay marriage need not be an obstacle, Eudy says.
“For the celebration, you can find a religious group who will support you here and can perform a ceremony,” Eudy says. “Or you can go elsewhere and get married. It’s definitely fun to do that in front of your friends and family.”
And despite the difficulties, Holden and Eudy remain optimistic.
“The tide is changing,” Holden says. “If you poll people by age group, you’re seeing a change [among younger people].”
It’s a change even Sanchez acknowledges.
“The governor is not an island,” Sanchez says of Gov. Susana Martinez’ opposition to a domestic partnership bill. “Everybody has friends and associates who influence them,” he adds. “Things could change.”