Third NM county to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - A third county in New Mexico will start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Tuesday.

As the debate continues, ABC-7 wanted to take a look at the basis for these decisions. Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins and the two district judge who sided with him said the state constitution mandates this.

On Monday, 26 more same-sex couples walked out of the Dona Ana County government building with marriage licenses.

In making his decision to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Ellins specifically talked about Article 2, Section 18 of the New Mexico Constitution.

That section is 40 years old. It directly addresses equal rights and gender discrimination.

"The New Mexico Constitution is quite unique. It requires equal protection for all people," Ellins told ABC-7.

Ellins is referring to the part of the state constitution that reads, "Equality of rights under law shall not be denied on account of the sex of any person."

That section went into effect July 1, 1973.

"That's the provision that I swore an oath to uphold, and I'm upholding it," Ellins said.

Ellins said the law is clear.

Gov. Susana Martinez disagrees.

"Certainly we should never discriminate against an individual for anything like housing or jobs or anything like that. That is not permissible whatsoever, and it's wrong, but as far as same-sex marriage, we're getting conflicting decisions by various clerks," she told ABC-7.

Martinez said the decision should be left up to the voters, not a county clerk.

To this day, no bill on gay marriage has made it through the state legislature to go up for a public vote.

Newly appointed Dona Ana County Commissioner Ben Rawson agrees this is not the county clerk's decision to make.

"I think it's important to recognize that our country is built on laws, and there's a process for changing laws. We change laws by going through the legislative process, the judicial process, going to the supreme court," Rawson told ABC-7.

The three most populated counties in New Mexico are all issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Ellins said his office will not stop until a court tells them to do so.

"I didn't invent the wheel. I just hope I was pushing it forward a little bit," Ellins said.

On Tuesday, the Dona Ana County Commission will discuss a resolution in support of same-sex marriage.

Rawson has made it clear he does not approve.

ABC-7's New Mexico Mobile Newsroom will be there to bring you complete coverage on air and online.

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