At 8 a.m. on Aug. 21, Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins began issuing licenses to same-sex couples seeking to marry in New Mexico.
Ellins said his office was issuing the licenses based on a legal opinion endorsed in a Santa Fe City Council resolution earlier this year and the recent state attorney general statement's that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unconstitutional.
New Mexico, unlike other states, does not have a law that specifically addresses same-sex marriage, and whether it is legal or illegal.
Equality New Mexico executive director Amber Royster said earlier on Aug. 21, “This morning's announcement demonstrates how critical the issue of marriage equality is in New Mexico. Committed, loving same-sex couples are tired of being second-class citizens. The state Supreme Court, however, has made it clear that they want the matter decided through the lawsuit filed in district court earlier this year, and in the most expeditious manner possible. Our hope is that this morning's action will further demonstrate the need for such expedited consideration.”
On Aug. 16, the New Mexico Supreme Court declined to immediately consider the issue of whether New Mexico must extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples, but held that the couples had the right to “expedited review” of their district court case.
Regarding the court's decision, ACLU of New Mexico legal director Laura Schauer Ives said, “While we would have liked for the court to hear this issue immediately, we are encouraged that the court recognizes that this is an important case that should be decided promptly. We look forward to moving this case through the courts as quickly as possible.”
In a statement on the county website, Ellins said, "I am mindful that I took an oath of office to uphold the constitution of the state of New Mexico as Doña Ana County Clerk. I am an attorney, and I have read the AG’s opinion, and I find it to be sound. After careful review of New Mexico's laws it is clear that the state's marriage statutes are gender neutral and do not expressly prohibit Doña Ana County from issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Any further denial of marriage licenses to these couples violates the United States and New Mexico Constitution and the New Mexico Human Rights Act. Doña Ana County is upholding New Mexico law by issuing these marriage licenses, and I see no reason to make committed couples in Doña Ana County wait another minute to marry.”
The county is in the south-central part of New Mexico and has a population of about 209,233, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The county seat is Las Cruces, the second-largest in New Mexico.