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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Friday, December 27, 2013

New Mexico 17th State to Recognize Same-Sex Marriage

A proactive clerk in Dona Ana County, New Mexico began issuing same-sex marriage licenses last August in the wake of the SCOTUS' same-sex marriage decision in United States v Windsor.  Other county clerks began doing the same thing, attracting the attention of the New Mexico Association of Counties after a few hundred marriage licenses had been voluntarily issued to gay couples.

In some New Mexican counties, clerks were court-ordered by county circuit judges to issue the same-gender marriage licenses while in still other counties, the clerks rejected marriage license applications from same-gender couples. Uncertainty in the law arose relative to the marriage issue in this state.  One of the lawsuits swiftly made its way through the NM courts.

Last week's case making New Mexico the 17th state in the Union to officially recognize same-sex marriage, Griego vs New Mexico, holds that although state marriage laws do not expressly prohibit same-sex marriage, taken as a whole, they have that effect.  Therefore, New Mexican marriage laws, being subjected to the court's "heightened scrutiny" were found to violate the Equal Protection clause of the NM constitution.

The Supreme Court of New Mexico held:
We conclude that the purpose of New Mexico marriage laws is to bring stability and order to the legal relationship of committed couples by defining their rights and responsibilities as to one another, their children if they choose to raise children together, and their property.  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.
 To accomplish this, the NM Supreme Court exercised its power of superintending control, expressly granted by the state  constitution, over all inferior [trial] courts and, by extension, the county clerks where state marriage licenses are issued.  Some legal critics and state legislative opponents will see this as the poisonous fruits of an activist court.

We here at the Law Blogger have been tracking this civil rights movement since the early-days of the Perry case in California back in 2009.  What we are noticing now is the significantly increased and fervent pace of these decisions across the nation.

Most of the legal pundits, commenting last summer as the nation awaited the SCOTUS decisions in Perry and Windsor, assumed that same-sex marriage would evolve slowly like the prior civil rights struggles for racial and gender equality.  As we can see from the brisk state-by-state output, the pace of change is quickening.

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