In 49 out of 50 states, marriage equality is either legal or it’s not. There’s no ambiguity – under state law, same-sex couples either have the ability to get legally married or they are explicitly prohibited from doing so.
The exception is New Mexico, where marriage equality is neither permitted nor banned. With this in mind, yesterday a state court helped New Mexico take a huge step forward in a court ruling the state ACLU described as “monumental.”
A New Mexico judge on Monday declared same-sex marriage legal, ordering the clerk of the state’s most populous county to join two other counties in issuing licenses for gay and lesbian couples.
State District Judge Alan Malott ruled New Mexico’s constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Bernalillo County clerk’s office in Albuquerque planned to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
The decision came after a judge in Santa Fe directed the county clerk there to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Friday. But Malott’s ruling was seen as more sweeping because he directly declared that gay marriage was legal.
The decision came in response to a legal fight launched by a Jen Roper, New Mexico woman with cancer, who wants New Mexico to recognize her longtime partner, Angelique Neuman, on her death certificate. Judge Malott not only agreed, he went further, incorporating a related case in which several same-sex couples sought marriage licenses.
Does this mean marriage equality has come to New Mexico? Not exactly. The case applies to the largest county in the state, but is not binding elsewhere. As the AP report added, it’s not clear whether clerks in other counties, which were not involved in the case, “will use the judge’s ruling as a signal that they can issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.”
Several Republican state lawmakers are reportedly hoping to stop couples from marrying, filing a lawsuit this morning to block clerks from issuing licenses to same-sex couples. It’s not yet clear whether those efforts will delay this morning’s ceremonies, but as best as I can tell, barring a last-minute court order, the Bernalillo County clerk’s office in Albuquerque wil start issuing marriage licenses in about 40 minutes.