Thursday, August 29, 2013

Observations from the Coffee Shop 8.29

If you are anything like me you're probably confused by what is going on with same sex marriage in New Mexico. I didn't understand why when one county in Pennsylvania began issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples all hell broke loose yet in New Mexico it seemed the opposite happened. One county followed another in issuing licenses or was ordered to do so. I didn't realize that not only doesn't New Mexico have a law banning same sex marriage it has no laws regulating marriage at all. I found this opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times that does a good job of explaining what is happening in New Mexico and because the Times is sometimes behind a paywall I thought I would post the entire article. Quirky indeed but whatever works.

New Mexico's quirky path on gay marriage
By Karin Klein
2:05 PM PDT, August 27, 2013

"Welcome, New Mexico, to the roster of states where same-sex marriage is performed and recognized. Sort of.

It has been a bumpy ride on the way to marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. Some states have come to that point through the courts, sometimes though their legislatures, sometimes by the voters themselves. Not counting New Mexico, 13 states and the District of Columbia now recognize such marriages.

Why leave out New Mexico? Same-sex marriage hasn't exactly been legalized there because of some unusual factors particular to the sometimes quirky state. For one thing, New Mexico doesn't have any laws that ban same-sex marriage. It in fact doesn't have laws regulating marriage, period. As a result, a clerk in one southern county recently began issuing marriage licenses and, unlike in other states where municipal governments took it upon themselves to make marriage law, it’s OK. There is no state law to override the clerk’s decision.

Meanwhile, the New Mexico Supreme Court has made clear that it’s in no rush to make a decision about same-sex marriage. In fact, the court suggested that lower courts just see if they couldn't handle this on their own. And that just happened twice over the last week in separate court victories that institute same-sex weddings in New Mexico’s two most populous counties.

How this affects the other counties in the state is unknown for now; the rulings aren't binding on them yet. Republican politicians are talking about a lawsuit to stop the weddings, saying that the governance of marriage is up to states. That’s true, but in the case of New Mexico, the state’s governance up to now could best be described as “Hey, whatever.” Gay marriage foes might try legislating against the marriages, but it’s late in the game and any such attempt might be viewed skeptically by courts that see it for what it is: An attempt to take away a civil right that a group already has.

It’s a messy way to go about achieving the admirable goal of full recognition for same-sex couples. But then, California’s  struggle over marriage rights involved a much more twisted tale. As Shakespeare might put it, the course to true civil rights never did run smooth."

8/30 update - Just after I posted last night I saw some news that throws a new twist into this story. All of New mexico's county clerks (21 Democrats and 12 Republicans) have joined the ACLU of New Mexico's lawsuit as defendants. New Mexico is the only state that has not explicitly allowed or banned same-sex marriage in law and the clerks are seeking a definitive answer.

This is from an article in the Albuquerque Journal News. "During a Wednesday conference call, county clerks voted 31-0 to have their attorney seek a state Supreme Court ruling to address their concerns and determine whether the constitution’s equal-rights protection allows for same-sex marriage," said Daniel Ivey-Soto, executive director of the New Mexico County Clerks Affiliate.

And here is a statement issued by the ACLU of New Mexico.

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