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New Mexico

N.M. county begins issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples

Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins said his office had issued 35 licenses to same-sex couples
Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Updated: 8:00 p.m. MDT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Gay couples rushed to a courthouse in Las Cruces on Wednesday after the county clerk decided to issue same-sex marriage licenses in a surprise move that came as several legal challenges on the practice make their way through the courts.

“I was in a coffee shop grading dissertations when my partner sent me an email saying, ‘you want to get married?’” said Char Ullman, 51. “I went home to brush my teeth and headed to the courthouse.”

Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins said his office had provided 35 licenses to same-sex couples compared to four or five given on an average day to heterosexual couples.

Courtesy photo, via AP
Char Ullman, 51, left, and Carrie Hamblen, 45, get married at the Dona Ana County Courthouse in Las Cruces, N.M. on Wednesday Aug. 21, 2013, after receiving a same-sex marriage license.

Juan Carlos Llorca, AP
Catherine Martinez and Linda Montoya hold hands as Dona Ana County employee and reverend Jess C. Williams marries them at the Dona Ana County Clerk’s Office in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013.

“It’s a happy office today. Lots of happy people,” he said. “One of the first couples that came in today said they had been waiting 31 years. Another couple says they’ve been waiting 43 years. It’s time to stop waiting.”

Jeff Williams, a public information officer in the county’s government and a reverend with Univers al Life Church, said he was marrying same-sex couples all day long while wearing his rainbow-colored tie.

Outside the courthouse, television reporters were busy interviewing the people getting married and there was no sign of any protesters.

Ellins said he had carefully read state laws and concluded the “state’s marriage statutes are gender neutral and do not expressly prohibit Dona Ana County from issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples.”

Later in the day, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said he had no plans to challenge the move by Ellins or another other county clerks who might allow the practice.

Ellins said he had been considering issuing the licenses since June, when King released a position paper saying state laws don’t allow same-sex marriage. King had asked county clerks to hold off on issuing licenses, even though he believes the laws are unconstitutional.

Ellins, however, said “any further denial of marriage licenses to these couples violates the United States and New Mexico Constitution and the New Mexico Human Rights Act.”

“I see no reason to make committed couples in Dona Ana County wait another minute to marry,” he added in his statement.

King said Wednesday that “we feel like our position that the law is unconstitutional presents a barrier to us from bringing any action.” Still, he warned that marriage licenses issued by county clerks could become invalid if the state Supreme Court later rules that same-sex marriage is not allowed.

County and city officials around the country have taken it upon themselves in recent years to issue same-sex licenses, with one of the first and most highly publicized cases in San Francisco in 2004.

The city issued the licenses for about a month before being ordered by courts to stop. The marriages were eventually invalidated. But gay marriage is now legal in that state.

Dona Ana County became the first county in New Mexico to actively issue same-sex licenses since a Sandoval County clerk issued 64 licenses to same-sex couples in 2004. Then-Attorney General Patricia Madrid soon declared the licenses were invalid and a court later ordered the clerk to stop.

Ullman and her longtime partner, Carrie Hamblen, 45, were among the same sex couples to receive marriage licenses on Wednesday in Las Cruces.

“People started clapping as soon as we walked in,” Ullman said. “And more are coming from Albuquerque trying to make it here by this afternoon.”

On Tuesday, a same-sex couple from Santa Fe asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to streamline the handling of lawsuits seeking to legalize gay marriage in the state.

State Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, a lawyer who represents the couple, said the goal is to get a quick lower court decision and clear the way for an expedited ruling by the state’s highest court.

The justices were being asked to consolidate all cases involving the issue and assign a district court judge in Santa Fe, who would issue a ruling that would go directly to the state Supreme Court for review.

Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar said she does not plan on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of pending lawsuits.

“I believe it’s in the right place – the courts,” Salazar said.

Couples in Bernalillo County – the state’s largest county and the location of Albuquerque – also are part of a lawsuit seeking to have same-sex marriage recognized in that county.

Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver said she was conferring with attorneys but not planning to follow Dona Ana County.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed an emergency request on Wednesday with the state’s Second Judicial District Court to allow two women in Pojoaque, Jen Roper and Angelique Neuman, to legally marry immediately in Santa Fe County. The group said Jen Roper is not expected to live long.

Developing story, check back for updates.

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69 more reader comments:

  1. :)

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 3:13pm
  2. I am so Happy for New Mexico, this is my husbands home State

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 3:26pm
  3. awesome!!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 3:38pm
  4. thats awesome ;)

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 4:17pm
  5. Nice!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 4:44pm
  6. Some day people are going to look back on this and be shocked at the idea that one group could stand in the way of another´s human rights based on religious beliefs!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:31pm
  7. Happy for them..

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:31pm
  8. Like a million times and more!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:32pm
  9. Awesome

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:33pm
  10. That´s Doña Ana County

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:34pm
  11. Yay!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:37pm
  12. Awesome and Congradulations =)

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:38pm
  13. Congrats!!!!!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:40pm
  14. This is amazing I live 20mins away.

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:40pm
  15. Congrats to our Sisters!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:44pm
  16. congratulations! <3

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:46pm
  17. Simply Wonderful!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:47pm
  18. Haha finally someone using loopholes for good. I wanna shake that mans hand.

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:48pm
  19. Congratulations! We are one step closer to having it legalized everywhere..

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:49pm
  20. Good!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:54pm
  21. I have been wondering about gender neutral loopholes in the marriage licenses for a long time, I´m glad to see that someone found it AND that they are utilizing it.

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 6:58pm
  22. That´s my county!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 7:00pm
  23. technically gender and sex are two different things… BUT… this is AWESOME news!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 7:00pm
  24. LGBTQ Nation it´s actually Doña Ana county not “Dora Ana”county…there is no such county in NM. (Just a heads up)

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 7:04pm
  25. I also want to applaud those who are marrying in the face of such odds – <—am streaming love and power your way!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 7:28pm
  26. Woop woop x

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 7:35pm
  27. All the awesome

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 7:39pm
  28. So great! Expanding happiness!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 7:51pm
  29. but where is Dora Ana

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 7:59pm
  30. AMEN

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 8:01pm
  31. congrats…

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 8:08pm
  32. Time for me to leave Phoenix, Arizona and move over there!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 9:34pm
  33. Dona Ana County = Las Cruces, NM and right now so proud to say I was born here and live here <3

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 9:46pm
  34. AHHH HA! jT I love you!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 10:50pm
  35. Awesome – Congrats!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 11:19pm
  36. Yay! New Mexico go for it. :)

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 11:31pm
  37. Sweet!

    Posted on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 11:48pm
  38. ITS CATCHY.

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 12:59am
  39. sweet

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 1:08am
  40. That´s Carrie Hamblen !

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 1:09am
  41. Finally

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 1:09am
  42. congrats

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 1:11am
  43. Congratulations!!

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 1:12am
  44. Blessed Be!

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 1:37am
  45. right on

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 1:42am
  46. This is awesome. No big debate, no vote. It just sort of happened. :D

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 1:47am
  47. Go New Mexico!! <3 Equality 4 ALL ;)

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 2:02am
  48. Great News!! :)

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 2:06am
  49. Loop holes. Gotta love them.

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 2:15am
  50. Love this! And I applaud you !

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 2:17am
  51. Wow, its happening…..

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 2:17am
  52. One by one

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 2:18am
  53. Wendy Davis needs to get a lesson from this wonderful Ms. Ellins!

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 2:25am
  54. So excited!!!

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 2:41am
  55. John. What are you hearing locally about this?

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 2:43am
  56. Congrats!

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 2:44am
  57. Olivia, though a good start, the court is still pending in regards to this issue. With New Mexico being the only state that avoided gender in their constitution and other laws, hopefully the judges will side in our favor. Several years back, because there is nothing that says that same-sex couples cannot marry in our constitution, a county judge here was all about marrying people, and then days, or a week later, the state invalidated them stating that there was nothing that said they could marry…as if we need permission. Anywho, it´s important here for sure, but until the courts here decide on a direction, this could jut be even more lawsuits lining up, and the lawyers here put forth a motion to consolidate all of this activity into on action, too speed up the process. Being that the Federal Supreme Court´s actions with Prop 8 and DOMA, most likely the judges here will also see denial of same-sex couples of the right to equal opportunity under the law as unconstitutional. I hope it all goes in that direction :) It would be nice someday to share my life and my freedoms with another man. :)

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 2:59am
  58. Good now my brother in law can finally get married! Super exciting!

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 3:02am
  59. Congratulations to the happy couples and to Doña Ana County for having the cajones to get things done right!!!

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 3:09am
  60. Technically, once DoM was overturned, any state where it wasn´t ILLEGAL could do this. Way to get the ball rolling, NM!!

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 3:29am
  61. Woot woot way to go NM!!!

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 3:32am
  62. good-proud to be American with this…and Putin can blow me

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 3:50am
  63. Happy for all my friends who no longer have to feel like second rate citizen.

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 4:21am
  64. nice..

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 9:18am
  65. Congratulations NM!

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 10:19am
  66. So happy for people who can finalize one if their dreams and rights. I am no gay but I believe on human rights and that is part of been Human to respect that each one is different and have the same rights!

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 11:06am
  67. Yeah!!

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 11:42am
  68. Waiting for the governor to put her two cents in

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 12:25pm
  69. Hey ladies & gents. We have a facebook page where you can ask questions meet new people. and even help answer others, or tell your story. Please like our page. https://www.facebook.com/Lezbehonest101

    Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 2:00pm