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More than 900 marriage licenses have been issued in New Mexico since Aug. 21, when the Dona Ana County clerk decided independently that gay marriage was allowed in the state. Seven other counties have started issuing licenses to same-sex couples or plan to do that, several in response to court orders.
Yesterday New Mexico's county clerks decided en masse that the confusion was too much:
New Mexico's counties and county clerks statewide filed a petition asking the justices to decide whether a judge in Albuquerque was correct in declaring it unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
And late today New Mexico's Supreme Court accepted that petition and scheduled a hearing on the matter:
New Mexico's highest court has scheduled a hearing next month in a case that could resolve whether gay marriage is legal in the state. The state Supreme Court on Friday set the hearing for Oct. 23.
The New Mexico state consitution contains gender-neutral language when it comes to marriages. But some New Mexico laws pertaining to marriage are written using gender specific terms. New Mexico's Attorney General, Democrat Gary King, has said that while he believes same-sex marriage is illegal according to these New Mexico laws and regulations, he also thinks it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples the right to marry under New Mexico's constitution.
Some county clerks decided to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples of their own accord several weeks ago; some were also ordered to by lower court judges due to lawsuits brought by same-sex couples wishing to be married; and at least one had refused the order.
The New Mexico Supreme Court had on at least two separate occasions in the recent past been asked to directly resolve the issue but had indicated that it wanted cases to proceed in District Court first. Now that the issue has spread across the entire state and all the County Clerks have requested direction, it looks like it might have changed its mind.
So the craziness may well end. (Which is good, but takes some of the fun out of watching it...)
My prediction is that on the basis of New Mexico's constitution, the US Supreme Court's DOMA ruling, and the tenor of the times the New Mexico Supreme Court will, if it in fact decides to rule and rules in any broad way, determine that same-sex couples have a right to marry in New Mexico.
It may or may not become the next state to have marriage equality formalized, as both Illinois and Hawaii may be considering legislation soon.
Background on all that has happened in New Mexico of late can be found at Equality on Trial, particularly here, here, and here, and going back into their archives for the last month or so.