August 23, 2013 at 3:16 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Santa Fe begins issuing marriage licenses to gay couples
gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, New Mexico, Santa Fe, gay news, Washington Blade

Dozens of same-sex couples hold an impromptu mass same-sex wedding in Santa Fe (Photo courtesy of ProgressNowNM).

A county clerk in Santa Fe started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Friday, resulting in dozens of gay couples marrying in a mass wedding.

Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Friday afternoon. The first gay couple to receive a marriage license in the county was Liz Stefanics, a Santa Fe county commissioner, and her partner Linda Siegle, a longtime LGBT activist.

Afterwards, at least a dozen recipients of the county’s first licenses held an impromptu mass same-sex wedding in the chambers of the county commission just minutes after receiving their licenses. The couples were pronounced legally married at 3:51 pm.

On Thursday, District Judge Sarah Singleton issued the order for the county to issue the marriage licenses, according to the Associated Press, and was quoted as saying in the decision that “reading a sex or sexual orientation requirement into the laws of New Mexico violates the state constitution.” Singleton reportedly ordered the clerk to grant marriage licenses to gay couples or appear in court Sept. 26 to tell her why that shouldn’t happen.

But in a statement that was read to the Washington Blade by her secretary Jackie Roberson, Singleton clarified the decision was an alternative writ of mandamus and not a decision based on the merits. Apparently, the clerk chose to begin issuing licenses rather than respond to the petition.

“That alternative writ says to do what the petitioner asks or show cause on a specific date why the clerk should not to do that,” Singleton said through the proxy. “An alternative writ is merely a way of giving the respondent a specific time to come in and answer the petition. It does not represent a decision on the merits.”

Singleton’s decision was the result of a lawsuit filed by State Rep. Brian Egolf on behalf by two Santa Fe men. In a statement provided by Progress NOW NM, Salazar explains her decision to begin distributing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“Now that Judge Singleton has ordered me to issue a license to Messrs. Hanna and Hudson on constitutional grounds, I intend to do so and to issue a license to any same-sex couple who desires one and are otherwise qualified,” Salazar said. “By complying with the judge’s order, we will be issuing licenses legally and will not continue to use limited county resources on further litigation.”

Pat Davis of ProgressNow New Mexico said in a statement the developments marks a historic development for New Mexico.

“After so many years of seeing these couples have their hopes raised, then dashed it is so rewarding to see progress finally coming,” Davis said. “Elected leaders with political courage stepped forward to do the right thing and we will be forever grateful. And no state could have done marriage equality better.  What could be cooler than a mass gay wedding in Santa Fe to celebrate marriage equality?”

The clerk began distributing the licenses to gay couples two days after Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins began doing the same on his own accord. According to ProgressNOW NM, nearly 100 same-sex couples were married in the county by the start of the next day.

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King said he wouldn’t stop Dona Ana County from issuing marriage licenses for gay couples. He’s previously said he won’t defend New Mexico law against lawsuits seeking marriage equality because he believes that the current statute is unconstitutional. Republican state lawmakers have said they’d intervene to stop the same-sex marriages from occurring.

In the spring, the Santa Fe City Council approved a resolution stating marriage equality was already legal in New Mexico because of the gender-neutral construction of the marriage law after Santa Fe officials, including Mayor David Coss, first proposed the measure in March.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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