New Mexico

Couple sues to force Los Alamos County, N.M. to issue same-sex marriage licenses


SANTA FE, N.M. — A same-sex couple from Los Alamos County is asking a state district court to require local officials to issue them a marriage license, a move that expands the legal battle over gay marriage in New Mexico.

The lawsuit was filed in the 1st Judicial District Court in Santa Fe by lawyers for Janet Newton and Maria Thibodeau, who were denied a marriage license by the Los Alamos County clerk’s office earlier this week.

Lawsuits have led to judges ordering clerks in Bernalillo, Santa Fe and Taos counties to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

Clerks in three other counties – Dona Ana, San Miguel and Valencia – are granting licenses without court orders.

Los Alamos County Clerk Sharon Stover, a Republican, said Thursday she hadn’t seen a copy of the lawsuit and needed to review it before commenting. Lawyers filed the lawsuit electronically late Wednesday after the court had closed for the day.

The latest case potentially offers a route for moving the gay marriage question to the state Supreme Court, which could make a ruling that would apply statewide rather than having the issue decided piecemeal through county-by-county lawsuits.

County clerks statewide are planning a legal action in hopes of getting a Supreme Court decision on whether gay marriage is legal in New Mexico. The clerks in Bernalillo, Santa Fe and Taos counties didn’t appeal the judge’s rulings, leaving no legal controversy that could be directly appealed to the state’s highest court.

“We’re trying to move expeditiously yet cautiously at the same time. We want to find what is the most direct route to the Supreme Court, but we also need to do it in the proper legal context,” said Daniel Ivey-Soto, executive director of the county clerks’ affiliate of the New Mexico Association of Counties.

Ivey-Soto, a lawyer and state senator from Albuquerque, said he hoped a lawsuit or other legal motion would be filed later Thursday but it remained uncertain in what county or court. The clerks voted Wednesday to authorize a lawsuit as a way to get a uniform statewide policy on gay marriage.

New Mexico law doesn’t explicitly prohibit or authorize gay marriage. However, state statutes include a model marriage license application that has sections for male and female applicants and there are other references in the marriage laws to “husband” and “wife.”

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Such provisions have been cited by county clerks historically in denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and Attorney General Gary King’s office has said state law effectively prohibits gay marriages.

But King and gay marriage advocates contend the prohibition is unconstitutional, and a district judge in Albuquerque earlier this week issued such a ruling, which cleared the way for marriage licenses to be issued in the state’s most populous county.

A district judge’s ruling doesn’t apply statewide, and that’s left advocates scrambling to find a way to get a gay marriage case before the Supreme Court.

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