New Mexico High Court to Hear Gay Marriage Case
Linda Siegle and her partner of 22 years were first in line when the Santa Fe County clerk started to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in late August.
Now, she’s waiting to see whether the New Mexico Supreme Court will legalize gay marriage in all of the state’s 33 counties. Eight counties currently allow it.
The five-member high court is scheduled to hear oral arguments next Wednesday in a case that could resolve an issue that’s historically stalled in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. New Mexico law doesn’t explicitly authorize or prohibit gay marriage, but lawmakers have refused to ban it or allow for domestic partnerships.
The court agreed to take the case after New Mexico’s county clerks asked the justices to clarify the law and decide whether a decision by a state district judge in Albuquerque was correct. That judge ruled in a lawsuit against two counties that it was unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The Supreme Court’s decision would apply statewide.
The justices could rule immediately or take the case under consideration and issue a decision later.
"As of today, we all believe that we are officially and legally married and eligible for all of those federal benefits and responsibilities," said Siegle, a lobbyist in Santa Fe for Equality New Mexico, a gay rights group. Legal marriage entitles gay couples to benefits like joint tax-filing status and Social Security survivor benefits.
Gay marriage became a hot-button issue two months ago when the Dona Ana County clerk decided independently to grant marriage licenses to gay couples. Seven other counties followed. Some took the step voluntarily and some, such as Santa Fe County, faced court orders after same-sex couples who had been denied marriage licenses filed lawsuits. More than 1,000 licenses have been issued so far.