Twenty-nine Republican legislators plan to ask the New Mexico Supreme
Court to stop Dona Ana County from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex
couples, lawmakers said Thursday.
Meanwhile, same-sex couples from around the state traveled to Las Cruces, the county seat, to seek the newly available licenses. The county, which started issuing the licenses on Wednesday, had provided 82 by the end of Thursday.
Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins, a Democrat, said Wednesday that he was tired of waiting for the state courts to offer a ruling on pending lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of state laws that limit marriage to opposite-sex couples.
"We are a nation and state of laws, and the county clerk of anywhere is not the dictator, and cannot change law," said Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington. "So we're in the process of trying to ask the Supreme Court to tell them to stop."
Republican lawmakers began the effort to halt the issuance of marriage licenses after Attorney General Gary King, a Democrat, said Wednesday that his office would not attempt to intervene, despite his conclusion earlier this year that New Mexico law prohibits same-sex marriage.
King, however, has said he believes the state's marriage laws would be found unconstitutional by Supreme Court.
"This is not about marriage," Sharer said. "This is about how laws are made."
Sharer said he hoped the request for an injunction to force Dona Ana County to stop issuing licenses would be filed within the next week.
Paul Becht, an Albuquerque attorney representing the Republican lawmakers, said the group chose to take its time in preparing its legal filing to ensure it stands in court.
"The idea is don't jump half-cocked and make a mistake," Becht said.
In 2004, a decision by the Sandoval County clerk, who was a Republican, to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses was stopped by a state district judge the same day when then-Attorney General Patricia Madrid, a Democrat, filed for a restraining order.
Rep. Terry McMillan, R-Las Cruces said the Dona Ana clerk's decision to issue marriage licenses is "jumping the gun" on the legal questions the courts are charged to answer.
"It's not clear to me what's gotten into his head," McMillan said, referring to Ellins. "We know the Supreme Court has a case on their docket that will certainly be appropriate for helping define marriage in the state of New Mexico, but they have not issued a ruling on that."
Michael Bartlett of Santa Fe said he and his partner of nine years, Daniel Aldis, considered waiting until next week to travel to Las Cruces for a marriage license so family members could come along. But concerns that the availability of licenses for same-sex couples might soon be curtailed prompted the couple to move fast.
Bartlett and Aldis were waiting at the Dona Ana County clerk's office in Las Cruces when it opened Thursday morning.
"When we started thinking about it, the way things work these days, this might get shut down," Bartlett said.
"It shouldn't get shut down," he said. " ... What is wrong with people proclaiming their love? Why is there not support and recognition for us? Why do we have to continue to be marginalized and excluded from the same rights?"
The Dona Ana County clerk on Thursday said his office will continue issuing licenses to same-sex couples until a court tells him to stop.
Ellins said he had not heard from any of the legislators preparing to seek an injunction.
"It was as upbeat today as it was yesterday," Ellins said.
(c)2013 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)
Visit the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) at www.abqjournal.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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