The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gay marriage legal in New Mexico, sort of

County clerks in New Mexico will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after a state judge ruled Monday that the state’s marriage law, which uses gender-neutral terms to define domestic relationships, doesn’t specifically prohibit gay marriage.

State District Judge Alan Malott on Monday ordered Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples immediately. The ruling echoed another district judge’s ruling last week that ordered Santa Fe County to begin issuing licenses.

Six same-sex couples that had been denied marriage licenses in the two counties had filed a lawsuit challenging those decisions.

In anticipation of the decision, both county clerks had already begun printing gender-neutral marriage licenses. Last week, the county clerk in Dona Ana County, in southern New Mexico, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On Tuesday, clerks in Valencia County and San Miguel County said they, too, would begin issuing licenses.

Together, the five counties are home to more than 1.1 million of New Mexico’s 2.08 million residents.

But whether the rulings means same-sex marriage is legal throughout New Mexico is unclear. Attorney General Gary King (D) has said he will not appeal the rulings, and both Oliver and Salazar have said their offices won’t appeal.

Clerks in the 28 other counties can choose to follow existing case law and issue their own same-sex marriage licenses, or they could wait to issue licenses until they are compelled by a court order to do so, according to Cathryn Oakley, an attorney for the Human Rights Campaign, a pro-gay rights group in Washington.

New Mexico is the 15th jurisdiction in which same-sex marriage has been legalized. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia already allow same-sex marriage.