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

Shari Vialpando-Hill, Las Cruces Sun-News/AP
Happy newlyweds join hands at the Doña Ana County Government Center on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 after receiving their marriage licenses and wedding in Las Cruces, N.M. The married couples include, from left: Erin Haynes and spouse Cynthia Haynes of Los Lunas, N.M.; Rev. Vangie Chavez and spouse Traci Garcia of Albuquerque, N.M.; Richard Sunman and spouse Thom Hinks of Albuquerque, N.M.; and Judi Schultz and spouse June Damuth of Las Cruces, N.M. BARRY MASSEY and JUAN CARLOS LLORCA [ap]

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — Gay and lesbian couples flocked to southern New Mexico for a second day Thursday to take advantage of a surprise decision to issue same-sex marriage licenses. And most were tying the knot on the spot, making sure they got their long-awaited marriage certificates before any courts or state officials could interfere with the county clerk’s decision.

Shari Vialpando-Hill, Las Cruces Sun-News/AP
Happy newlyweds join hands at the Doña Ana County Government Center on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 after receiving their marriage licenses and wedding in Las Cruces, N.M. The married couples include, from left: Erin Haynes and spouse Cynthia Haynes of Los Lunas, N.M.; Rev. Vangie Chavez and spouse Traci Garcia of Albuquerque, N.M.; Richard Sunman and spouse Thom Hinks of Albuquerque, N.M.; and Judi Schultz and spouse June Damuth of Las Cruces, N.M.

“We wanted a piece of paper that said, ‘Yes, the 20 years have not been in vain,'” said Thom Hinks of Albuquerque.

Hinks said he and his partner, Richard Sunman, spent much of their three-hour drive discussing whether to get married immediately in Las Cruces on Thursday or use the license to have a better-planned ceremony somewhere else in the state.

They said they decided to do it right away, remembering that licenses issued by the Sandoval County clerk in 2004 were later invalidated.

“All it would take is for a judge to issue an edict and strike it down,” said Hink.

But neither Republican Gov. Susana Martinez nor Democratic Attorney General Gary King indicated they planned to do anything to try to halt the practice as cases testing the legality of same-sex marriage work their way through the state Supreme Court.

Still, they were bracing for the possibility of more litigation in light of Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins’ decision to begin issuing the licenses Wednesday.

“This is likely to spark yet another court case in New Mexico on this issue and again, that’s why the governor has said voters should settle this issue – not courts or politicians,” said Enrique Knell, a spokesman for Martinez.

One Dona Ana county commissioner, Ben Rawson, criticized the move. But Ellins Thursday said he had heard of no plans to challenge his decision.

Ellins said he discussed his plans with the country attorney, and vowed to use only private donations if a legal challenged ensues.

Ellins began issuing same -sex marriage licenses Wednesday after he said his review of state law allowed him to do so. As of midday Thursday, 65 licenses had been issued.

Most of the couples were from New Mexico, Ellins said. But a few crossed state lines.

Monica Corral and Luz Saenz said they came from nearby El Paso, even though their marriage won’t be legal in Texas.

They said they just wanted to make the lifelong commitment, and “hopefully I will live long enough to see it happen in Texas,” said Saenz.

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Although King earlier this year advised county clerks against issuing same-sex licenses, the attorney general said Wednesday he had no plans to challenge the move by Ellins or any 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, but that King thinks those laws are unconstitutional.

County and city officials aro und 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.

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