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NM county issues same-sex marriage licenses

Posted: August 22, 2013 7:00 a.m.
Updated: August 22, 2013 7:00 a.m.
 

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Gay couples rushed to a courthouse in Las Cruces on Wednesday after the county clerk decided to issue same-sex marriage licenses in a surprise move that came as several legal challenges on the practice make their way through the courts.

"I was in a coffee shop grading dissertations when my partner sent me an email saying, 'you want to get married?'" said Char Ullman, 51. "I went home to brush my teeth and headed to the courthouse."

Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins said his office had provided 35 licenses to same-sex couples compared to four or five given on an average day to heterosexual couples.

"It's a happy office today. Lots of happy people," he said. "One of the first couples that came in today said they had been waiting 31 years. Another couple says they've been waiting 43 years. It's time to stop waiting."

Jeff Williams, a public information officer in the county's government and a reverend with Universal Life Church, said he was marrying same-sex couples all day long while wearing his rainbow-colored tie.

Outside the courthouse, television reporters were busy interviewing the people getting married and there was no sign of any protesters.

Ellins said he had carefully read state laws and concluded the "state's marriage statutes are gender neutral and do not expressly prohibit Dona Ana County from issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples."

Later in the day, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said he had no plans to challenge the move by Ellins or another other county clerks who might allow the practice.

Ellins said he had been considering issuing the licenses since June, when King released a position paper saying state laws don't allow same-sex marriage. King had asked county clerks to hold off on issuing licenses, even though he believes the laws are unconstitutional.

Ellins, however, said "any further denial of marriage licenses to these couples violates the United States and New Mexico Constitution and the New Mexico Human Rights Act."

"I see no reason to make committed couples in Dona Ana County wait another minute to marry," he added in his statement.

King said Wednesday that "we feel like our position that the law is unconstitutional presents a barrier to us from bringing any action."

Still, he warned that marriage licenses issued by county clerks could become invalid if the state Supreme Court later rules that same-sex marriage is not allowed.

County and city officials around the country have taken it upon themselves in recent years to issue same-sex licenses, with one of the first and most highly publicized cases in San Francisco in 2004.

The city issued the licenses for about a month before being ordered by courts to stop. The marriages were eventually invalidated. But gay marriage is now legal in that state.

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