On Monday, a New Mexico district judge ordered the clerks in two of New Mexico's largest counties to issue same-sex marriage licences to any otherwise qualified couple that requests them. The decision, which seemed to pleasantly surprise the same-sex marriage activists awaiting Judge Alan Malot's decision, is just the latest heartening news for gay marriage supporters in the state. Bernalillo County, the state's most populous, will begin issuing the licences on Tuesday. The other, Santa Fe County, was already issuing them based on a separate court order on Thursday. That brings the number of counties in the state granting same sex marriage licences up to three: Doña Ana County's clerk began giving out marriage licenses to gay couples last week on his own.
Echoing the legal argument from Doña Ana County clerk Lynn Ellins, judge Molot found nothing in current state law that bans same-sex marriages in the state. Instead, Malot cited the state's equal protection and anti-discrimination laws as an indication to the contrary, that New Mexico law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. New Mexico law, he ruled,
"Does not preclude nor prohibit issuance of a marriage license to otherwise qualified couples on the basis of sexual orientation or the gender of its members."
Judge Molot is now the second New Mexico judge in just a few days to find that state law doesn't prohibit same-sex marriage. Late last Thursday, District Judge Sarah Singleton ordered Santa Fe's clerk to begin issuing the licenses. The clerk there, Geraldine Salazar, supports gay marriage and has shown no indication of contesting the order, according to the AP.
Molot's ruling surprised activists in part because the original intent of the Monday hearing was much narrower. The judge was set to rule on whether Santa Fe County had to issue a marriage license to a lesbian couple with one terminally ill partner. The couple's request for an emergency ruling was rendered moot by Judge Singleton's Friday order to Santa Fe County, pertaining to a separate case.
Bernalillo county already has 1,000 same-sex marriage licence papers on hand, in anticipation of today's ruling. All they have to do before Tuesday, according to ABC affiliate KOAT, is reconfigure their computers to handle the change. But some gay couples in the county are already filling out the paperwork ahead of time:
Another couple is filling out an application at the clerk's office. They say they'll be back tomorrow. #NMSameSexMarriage— Mike Springer (@MSpringerKOAT) August 26, 2013
While incremental, the ruling is just the latest of many favorable developments for same-sex marriage supporters in the state. And here's a sign that opponents are taking the momentum seriously: last week, a group of GOP lawmakers in the state indicated their intent to sue in order to block county clerks from issuing same-sex licenses.