The Supreme Court of New Mexico ruled on Thursday that the state’s constitution means the state cannot deny marriage recognition to same-sex couples, effectively legalizing gay marriage.
In a unanimous decision on Thursday, the Supreme Court upheld the a lower court that the state’s constitutional guarantees of nondiscrimination mean same-sex marriage should be legal in New Mexico:
We hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law.
The decision should take effect immediately. New Mexico joins 16 other states and the District of Columbia in recognizing same-sex marriage.
Regular readers will remember that New Mexico’s laws are rather unique in that it carried no explicit ban on same-sex marriage, but simply hadn’t passed any law formally recognizing same-sex marriages.
In March this year, Santa Fe city leaders, including Mayor David Coss, City Councilor Patti Bushee, and city attorney Geno Zamora, announced they intended to start giving out same-sex marriage licenses as they could find no basis to refuse same-sex couples. That decision was immediately challenged by the state who said that, even though there was no language explicitly forbidding gay marriage, no statute provided for same-sex marriage recognition either and so it was up to state lawmakers to act and not administrative officials.
After the Supreme Court of the United States ruled this summer to strike DOMA’s Section 3, which had banned the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage, several New Mexico counties followed the Santa Fe administration and began offering same-sex marriage licenses. A couple of county clerks who oppose same-sex marriage filed to block this recognition. They lost in the lower courts but continued their appeal to the highest court in the state.
Though the New Mexico Supreme Court has previously declined to hear same-sex marriage suits, the Court agreed to take on the case and, as mentioned above, it ruled for the side of equality.
What’s more, the Court made some edifying statements in its decision: chief among them was its slapping down arguments that same-sex marriage should not be allowed because, supposedly, only heterosexual marriage is good for children:
We fail to see how depriving committed same-gender couples, who want to marry and raise families, of federal and state marital benefits and protections will result in responsible child-rearing by heterosexual married couples. In the final analysis, child-rearing for same-gender couples is made more difficult by denying them the status of being married and depriving them of the rights, protections, and responsibilities that come with civil marriage. Innumerable statutory benefits and protections inure to the benefit of a married couple.
The Court also added:
Procreation has never been a condition of marriage under New Mexico law, as evidenced by the fact that the aged, the infertile, and those who choose not to have children are not precluded from marrying.
Gay rights groups have praised the ruling as yet another step to achieving equality in every state. The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement with HRC President Chad Griffin saying:
“The court is entirely correct that denying lesbian and gay couples the same rights as everyone else is fundamentally unjust. Regardless of where you live, all people should have the ability to marry the person they love, and now the legislature must not do anything to turn back the clock in the Land of Enchantment.”
This year has been an extraordinary one for marriage equality, with Illinois and Hawaii legalizing marriage equality just last month. It should also be noted that New Mexico is the first state in the American Southwest to recognize marriage equality. The hope is that this will have a sympathetic effect and boost the urgency for equality in neighboring states.
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