Marrying Up

Santa Fe officials start a local push for same-sex marriage (VIDEO)

In the latest foray into same-sex marriage policy, local officials took a bold step this week, declaring that gay marriage is legal in New Mexico and urging county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

On Tuesday, Santa Fe Mayor David Coss held a press conference to announce the city's stance in support of same-sex marriage and present legal arguments by City Attorney Geno Zamora.

The logic goes like this: First, New Mexico law doesn't include gender in its definition of marriage. Second, the state Constitution prohibits gender discrimination—meaning marriage licenses can't be denied based on gender. Third, New Mexico already recognizes same-sex marriages from other states. Conclusion?
Same-sex marriage is already legal.

Zamora's legal memo forms the basis of a resolution that Coss and City Councilor Patti Bushee are sponsoring and urging City Council to pass.

"We're going to encourage New Mexico's county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples," Coss said Tuesday.

Zamora's interpretation of New Mexico law allowing same-sex marriage has some precedent. In 2004, Sandoval County's then-clerk, Republican Victoria Dunlap, began issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples. Dunlap licensed 64 of them over an eight-hour period before then-Attorney General Patricia Madrid ordered her to stop.

But Zamora stressed that current AG Gary King's opinion recognizing same-sex marriages from other states matches his own legal analysis. And Madrid's order was an advisory letter, "which carries no weight in law," he noted. 

Still, Coss said the city expects some pushback. On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico expressed support for Zamora's view, but warned that the courts must ultimately weigh in on the legality of same-sex marriage. And Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar tells SFR she "won't be issuing marriage licenses because the law is not clear and does not give me the authority to do so."

The city resolution comes just a day after a nationwide poll found that 58 percent of Americans believe same-sex couples should be allowed to legally marry. Next week, the US Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in two same-sex marriage cases, respectively over California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The New Mexico Supreme Court is also considering a case in which an Albuquerque woman refused to photograph a same-sex wedding because it was against her religious beliefs.

But for many, the issue is more personal than political.

"We are the last group that is allowed legally to be discriminated against," Bushee, who's openly gay, told the crowd on Tuesday. "It's uncalled for. It needs to change."

"My daughter is gay," Coss said. "She has a partner who is a lovely woman, and as a dad, I'd just like to walk her down the aisle some day. And I'll never get to do that if we don't move on these issues in Santa Fe."

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