March 9, 2014
New Mexico Supreme Court rules to allow same-sex marriage
The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled to allow same-sex marriage statewide, ending a patchwork arrangement in which some counties permitted gay nuptials while others prohibited them.
The ruling makes New Mexico the 17th US state to legalize gay and lesbian marriage, and comes after the governors of Hawaii and Illinois signed bills last month to permit same-sex weddings in their states.
"Denying same-gender couples the right to marry and thus depriving them and their families of the rights, protections and responsibilities of civil marriage violates the equality demanded by the equal protection clause of the New Mexico Constitution," Justice Edward Chavez wrote in a 31-page opinion.
The ruling found that civil marriage should be "construed to mean the voluntary union of two persons to the exclusion of all others" and that "all rights, protections and responsibilities that result from marital relationship shall apply equally."
The decision highlights the shifting legal and social landscape on gay marriage in the United States. Polls have shown increasing public support, and civil rights groups have prevailed at a number of courthouses and with an increasing number of state legislatures. Ten years ago, no US states permitted gay marriage.
Stepping into an intensifying and often bitter national debate over same-sex matrimony, the New Mexico Supreme Court agreed in September to settle the matter for the state after some counties began issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, either unilaterally or in response to lower-court rulings.
In a previous ruling, a New Mexico judge upheld the right to gay marriage in a case that applied to counties encompassing the state's largest city, Albuquerque, and the state capital of Santa Fe.
Later, judges in a number of other counties asked clerks to justify their practice of not issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Many clerks began issuing such licenses to same-sex couples rather than go back to court.