New Mexico has held a unique position in the larger fight over marriage equality: it’s the only state that hasn’t taken a firm position on whether same-sex couples have equal marriage rights or not. Of the nation’s 50 states, 49 have either allowed or prohibited same-sex marriage – with New Mexico as lone holdout.
This afternoon, the state Supreme Court settled the dispute, ruling that marriage rights apply equally to all. From the ruling:
“Prohibiting same-gender marriages is not substantially related to the governmental interests advanced by the parties opposing same-gender marriage or to the purposes we have identified. Therefore, barring individuals from marrying and depriving them of the rights, protections, and responsibilities of civil marriage solely because of their sexual orientation violates the Equal Protection Clause under Article II, Section 18 of the New Mexico Constitution. 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 entirety of the ruling is online here (pdf). Note, the decision was a unanimous, 5-0 ruling.
The legal dispute, which reached the New Mexico Supreme Court very quickly this year, came up after several of the state’s 33 county clerks started granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples, taking advantage of the ambiguity in state law, which didn’t explicitly prohibit it.
New Mexico is now the 16th state where marriage equality is the law of the land, following Hawaii and Illinois, which joined the club last month.
As we talked about at the time, it’s amazing the progress almost seems routine at this point, and how our expectations have changed now that nearly a third of the nation’s states extend equal-marriage rights to all of its citizens.
And while this progress is heartening for those who celebrate the expansion of civil rights, it’s worth appreciating every breakthrough as it happens. In time, 16 marriage-equality states will become 50, but until then, every step towards that goal is cause for celebration.