SANTA FE, N.M. - The New Mexico Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in the state Thursday, declaring in a ruling that it is unconstitutional to deny a marriage license to gay and lesbian couples.
New Mexico joins 16 states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay marriage.
Eight of the state's 33 counties started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in August, when a county clerk in southern New Mexico independently decided to allow the unions. County officials asked the high court to clarify the law and establish a uniform state policy on gay marriage.
State statutes don't explicitly prohibit or authorize gay marriage. However, the marriage laws - unchanged since 1961 - contain a marriage license application with sections for male and female applications. There also are references to "husband" and "wife."
The current and previous state attorneys general have said the law effectively prohibits gay marriage, although current Attorney General Gary King also has said he believes such a prohibition is unconstitutional.
A state district court judge in Albuquerque ruled earlier this year that it is a violation of New Mexico's constitution to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The judge based his decision on a 1972 constitutional amendment adopted by voters that prohibits discrimination "on account of the sex of any person."
Two county clerks that were defendants in that case decided not to directly appeal the judge's ruling. However, the county association and the state's 31 other county clerks - including several already issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples - joined the lawsuit to provide a way to quickly move the gay marriage question to the Supreme Court.
The five justices previously turned down efforts by gay rights advocates to get a ruling on the marriage issue. The advocates had attempted to get a decision by filing lawsuits directly with the Supreme Court rather than through an appeal of a lower court decision.
Archdiocese of Santa Fe released following statement today on the same sex marriage ruling
The Roman Catholic bishops of New Mexico, including Bishop Oscar Cantu, released the following statement regarding the ruling:
"The bishops of New Mexico recognize the New Mexico Supreme Court as the interpreter of the State Constitution. The Catholic Church respects and loves the gay and lesbian members of our community. We will continue to promote Catholic teaching of the Biblical definition of marriage to be that of one man and one woman."
Statement on Aug. 21, 2013's Doña Ana County's Announcement Regarding Issuance of Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples
"Today (Aug. 21) the Doña Ana County Clerk announced that his office would begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This is a significant matter that affects society at large and as such is one that is best decided through the legislative branch of government, and, in absence of its action, by the judicial branch. There are cases currently in process to be heard and decided by the New Mexico State Supreme Court. The legislative process (and the judicial, to a lesser degree) at the state government not only allows appropriate public debate on the issue but provides definitive legal direction for the state. We, the Catholic bishops of New Mexico, reiterate our previous statement on same-sex marriage: "[the] tradition of marriage between one man and one woman comes to us not only from the Judeo-Christian tradition, but it has been witnessed in cultures throughout the world for many millennia." We believe this institution of marriage to be "unique and irreplaceable," for "only does the sexual union of a man and woman bring forth children." - signed Most Rev. Michael J. Sheehan, archbishop of Santa Fe; Most Rev. James S. Wall, bishop of Gallup, and Most Rev. Oscar Cantú, bishop of Las Cruces.