Santa Fe Mayor David Coss has a simple reply when asked why he decided to declare same-sex marriage is already legal in New Mexico: “I think the time has come.”
Speaking with the Washington Blade on Tuesday, Coss said he and other city officials issued an opinion and a proposed resolution saying marriage equality is legal in New Mexico because the state legislature adjourned on Saturday without addressing the issue.
“We think it’s legal in New Mexico,” Coss said. “If you look at the constitution, and you look at the statutes, there’s no prohibition. I think just as a matter of equal rights under the law, we ought to move.”
Along with City Council member Patti Bushee, Coss unveiled the proposed resolution on Tuesday saying same-sex marriage is legal in New Mexico and county clerks should begin granting marriage licenses to gay couples. On the same day, City Attorney Geno Zamora issued an opinion affirming those views — observing no law in the state explicitly bans same-sex marriage and gay couples have equal protections under the state constitution.
Coss, who has a gay daughter, said he expects same-sex couples will soon be able to marry in New Mexico.
“The resolution that we have introduced to [the] city council and the legal opinion that our attorney’s office did also provides what’s the legal steps if the clerks won’t issue the licenses, but we’ve been waiting for the legislature to address this for 25 years,” Coss said.
This action from city officials comes more than two years after an opinion from state Attorney General Gary King stating same-sex marriage is legal in New Mexico. However, his opinion does not have the force of law.
Coss said he expects the resolution and opinion will mostly go before district court, then to the New Mexico Supreme Court for a final resolution.
“If the Supreme Court agrees with us, then that’ll take us to New Mexico being the 10th state to recognize same-sex marriage,” Coss said.
It wouldn’t be the first time county clerks in New Mexico began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
On Feb. 20, 2004, Sandoval County Clerk Victoria Dunlap began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples — awarding more than 60 licenses to them — until the state attorney general issued an opinion saying the marriages were invalid on the same day.
Asked if there’s any danger gay couples who marry in New Mexico could suffer harm if they discover their unions are later invalid, Coss acknowledged a danger but said harm is being done to couples “who don’t have their rights builds every day.”
“We just think we’re in a good position,” Coss said. “I think the legal opinion is sound. I think the attorney general’s opinion saying that we should recognize same-sex marriages from other states in New Mexico just begs the question: So why not for New Mexicans?”
Coss said while he plans to introduce the resolution to the City Council on March 27, action won’t happen until April 24. Therefore, he doesn’t think it’ll have an impact on U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments next week on California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.
Before making the announcement, Coss said he spoke with numerous LGBT rights group in New Mexico about the decision, including Progress New New Mexico, the main group coordinating the initiative, as well as Equality New Mexico and the Human Rights Alliance in Santa Fe. But Coss said he hasn’t spoken to national groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, about the decision.
According to Coss, no group or person has said to him personally that issuing the decision at this time is a bad idea, however, he said he’s heard that sentiment expressed elsewhere.
Further, Coss was unabashed about the what the move would mean for New Mexico if it were to join nine states and D.C. in marriage equality.
“I would be very proud for New Mexico to be the 10th state,” Coss said. “I’m very proud of the city of Santa Fe. We’ve been a leader in labor rights, immigrants and rights for gay and lesbian people. So, I think we’re making the right statement and the right opinion, and I feel pretty confident that before too much longer, same-sex couples in New Mexico will have equal rights with the rest of New Mexicans.”