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New Mexico couple files lawsuit seeking same-sex marriage

New Mexico couple files lawsuit seeking same-sex marriage

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Two Santa Fe men filed a lawsuit Thursday to force New Mexico courts to decide the politically thorny issue of whether gay marriage is legal in the state.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of Alexander Hanna and Yon Hudson asks a state district court to order the Santa Fe County clerk to issue them a marriage license. The case lays the groundwork for the gay marriage dispute to potentially soon end up before New Mexico’s highest court.

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Yon Hudson (left) and Alex Hannah.

The challenge came the same day that New Mexico Attorney General Gary King – who is running for governor in 2014 – declined to issue a formal opinion on whether same-sex marriage is legal in New Mexico. An internal legal analysis by his staff, however, concluded that state law doesn’t allow same-sex marriage but is vulnerable to a constitutional challenge.

In March, two other same-sex New Mexico couples filed lawsuits in Bernalillo County in March to force New Mexico courts to rule whether s ame-sex marriage is legal. The lawsuit, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, claims the current ban on same-sex marriage violates the New Mexico Constitution.

Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, who is representing the Santa Fe couple in the latest lawsuit, said they believe the clerk wanted to issue them a marriage license but is hindered by confusion over New Mexico law.

“Today’s petition is meant to be the means by which she, and others, will get the legal clarification they need to proceed with issuing licenses,” Egolf said.

At an Albuquerque news conference, King said the legal questions of same-sex marriage need to be sorted out by lawmakers and the courts.

“Based on extensive research, we cannot state definitively that New Mexico law currently permits same-sex marriage,” King said. “Although state statutes may limit marriage to couples of the opposite sex, this does not mean they will pass constitutional muster.”

Sean Cunniff, an assistant attorney general, concluded in a legal analysis “that gay marriage is not currently authorized under New Mexico’s statutory law.”

The state’s top lawyer was asked by State Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, earlier this year to issue a formal opinion on the matter.

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King said his decision had nothing to do with him seeking the state’s highest office.

Still, his refusal to issue a formal opinion was criticized by some liberal-leaning groups, which hoped that King would give a green light to county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Pat Davis of ProgressNow New Mexico said he was disappointed with King’s decision. “This morning, the attorney general declined to issue an opinion, instead endorsing the status quo of confusion and inequality for the foreseeable future,” Davis said.

Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, a supporter of same-sex marriage, also said he was disappointed with King’s announcement. “My heart goes out to those who have seen their civil rights denied for another day,” Coss said in a statement.

The New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops said Thursday it stands by its statement that the institution of marriage should remain between one man and one woman.

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