NM Supreme Court Set to Hear Marriage Equality Case
After eight of the 33 counties in New Mexico started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples this year, the state's Supreme Court agreed on Friday to hear a gay marriage case, deciding whether or not marriage equality should be legal throughout the entire state, NBCNews reports.
The high court will hear debates on gay marriage on Oct. 23, after New Mexico's debate on marriage equality has gained national attention. Currently, the state does not recognize any form of same-sex relationships, such as civil unions or domestic partnerships. New Mexico does, however, provide benefits to same-sex partners of state employees.
The five justices of the state's Supreme Court previously refused to rule on the gay marriage issue, saying they wanted the lower courts to decide on marriage equality. In August, a district judge in Santa Fe ruled that New Mexico's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional and ordered a local government clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Just a few days later, a district judge in Bernalillo Country, N.M., which includes Albuquerque, also ruled that same-sex couples should have the right to marry. In total, eight counties allow same-sex couples to marry. On Sept. 4, the northern county of Los Alamos was the latest county to do so.
"Anytime two people get to exercise their freedom for their first time, that's important. That's what is important to our clients," Brian Egolf, a Democratic state legislator and Santa Fe lawyer for the couple, told the Associated Press.
The 33 county clerks in New Mexico, joined by the New Mexico Association of Counties, have petitioned the state's Supreme Court to rule on the issue and decide if marriage equality should be applied to the entire state.
Unsurprisingly, New Mexico's Republican lawmakers are fighting back and have filed a lawsuit against a Dona Ana Country clerk who led the way by acting independently and handed out marriage licenses to same-sex couples in August.
"I think it's excellent," state Rep. Anna Crook, a Republican from the town of Clovis, one of 29 lawmakers who have so far joined the lawsuit in Dona Ana County, told NBCNews. "It's been absolute chaos. We need to have a ruling one way or the other instead of 'my county can, yours can't.'"
Officials from the American Civil Liberties Union, who are representing couples from Bernalillo County in the case, said gay rights supporters hope that the Supreme Court's announcement to rule on marriage equality "will lead to a speedy decision establishing the freedom to marry for all same-sex couples in New Mexico."