SANTA FE, N.M. — Jennifer Neuman-Roper, one of the plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit seeking marriage equality in New Mexico, died on Friday of advanced cancer. She was 44.
Roper, who in August married Angelique Neuman, her partner of more than 20 years, played a pivotal role in struggle to win the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in New Mexico.
Because Neuman-Roper suffered from Stage 4 glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, the couple asked a judge in Santa Fe to allow them to marry case before her illness rendered her incapable. With only months to live, the couple feared the issue of same-sex marriage would not be resolved before Neuman-Roper’s death.
One week earlier, a county clerk in Dona Ana County decided on his own to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after determining that the state’s marriage laws, as written, were gender neutral.
Neuman-Roper’s heath, however, precluded the couple from traveling 300 miles south to marry in that county.
“I want to know that my family will be protected if I pass away,” Neuman-Roper said last August. “Angelique and I have been married in our hearts for 21 years and raised three wonderful children together. Because of my illness, we do not have the luxury of waiting years for the courts to decide whether loving, committed same-sex couples can marry in New Mexico. For us, the time is now.”
Days later, on August 23, the couple legally married after a N.M. judge ordered Santa Fe County to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, prompting County Clerk Geraldine Salazar to dispatch a staffer to the chemotherapy suite at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, to issue Roper and Neuman their marriage license.
The couple married that same day in an impromptu ceremony at the cancer center.
Neuman-Roper’s participation in the New Mexico freedom to marry case “helped open the door for thousands of same-sex couples to celebrate their love and commitment in marriage here in our state,” said Peter Simonson, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Mexico, in a statement Monday.
“She was a beloved member of her community, a loving mother and wife, and a trail blazer for marriage equality in New Mexico,” he said. “She will be missed.
Since August, eight counties in New Mexico have issued marriage licenses to same sex couples. Meanwhile, their lawsuit is currently on appeal to the New Mexico State Supreme Court, which is expected to deliver a ruling soon.
Neuman-Roper becomes the first person to be issued a New Mexico certificate of death that acknowledged a surviving same-sex spouse, according to the ACLU-NM.
She is survived by her wife, Angelique, and sons Jayms, David, and Damion.