Dona Ana County clerk seeks public help to fight legal battle

Republican legislators filed legal action because of same-sex marriage licenses

POSTED: 08:13 PM MDT Sep 04, 2013    UPDATED: 12:45 PM MST Jan 16, 2014 
LAS CRUCES -

The Dona Ana County Clerk is asking for public donations to fight his legal battle. A group of Republican state legislators filed a legal challenge against him for issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Legislators said he does not have the power to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

The filing accuses the clerk of trying to take over the legislators' power to make laws.

The petition was filed by seven Republican legislators from throughout New Mexico. They claim County Clerk Lynn Ellins is redefining marriage in New Mexico, but Ellins said he's just following the state constitution.

"I'm all for equality as far as benefits and those types of things for same-sex couples. The important thing to me is to protect the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman," said Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-Alamogordo), one of the legislators backing the legal action.

The 19-page court document accuses Ellins of redefining marriage in New Mexico. The legislators said that's not within Ellins' power.

The petition asks a judge to stop Ellins from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It also asks a judge to invalidate the hundreds of same-sex marriages done in the past two weeks.

Ellins said he hired attorneys separate from the county to fight this. He said the county's insurance will cover $10,000 of his legal fees without raising the premium for the county.

Other than that, Ellins said he will not use any county taxpayer money. That's why Ellins is asking for donations from the public.

"It's a very controversial subject. I think a lot of taxpayers would object strenuously if I tried to use taxpayer money for this. I have some sympathy toward that position," Ellins said.

A group supporting Ellins set up a website called Equality Dona Ana County to raise money. A meter on the website shows the goal is $40,000.

Residents in Dona Ana County had mixed feelings about that.

"I thought he was very courageous in what he did. I think it's a shame he's being sued," one resident said.

When asked if she would consider donating, the woman said she probably would.

"I don't think we should be the ones that pay for that. I think if he made the mistake, they're the ones that need to pay for it, not the public," another resident said.

Herrell said the legislators are not spending any taxpayer dollars on this legal action either. She told ABC-7 the legislators backing the action are funding the legal fees.

There are now eight counties in New Mexico that have decided to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, either on their own or by a court order from a judge.

This filing specifically targets Ellins. He said he's confident in his argument.

"I think we've got a winner. When the statute conflicts with the constitution, that's a no-brainer," Ellins told ABC-7.

Ellins said his attorneys will file a response to the petition by Thursday.

He said he will fight this until he runs out of money.

Ellins and his office are still issuing same-sex marriage licenses. He said he will not stop until a court tells him to.