Same-Sex Marriages Valid in New Mexico?
Marriage equality made its debut last year in "Old Mexico," when Mexico City embraced family parity. Something similar may be in the cards for New Mexico, where the state’s attorney general has determined in a non-binding opinion that the lack of any law against it, marriages granted in other jurisdictions may be honored.
New Mexico became the 47th state of the union in 1912. It is bordered by Colorado, Arizona, Texas, and--for a short stretch--Oklahoma. The state remains relatively under populated, but in recent decades its population has increased markedly. According to Freedom to Marry, the issue of marriage equality has been ongoing in the state for several years. In 2007, state lawmakers introduced a bill to extend state-level marriage equality; a separate bill also proposed the creation of domestic partnerships.
Last year, a ballot initiative to amend the state constitution in a way that would discriminate against gay and lesbian families was proposed by Republican State Sen. Bill Sharer, according to marriage advocacy group Just New Mexico. The ballot initiative did not advance.
The state’s attorney general said that given the lack of legislation around same-sex marriage, it was probable that gay and lesbian couples who marry elsewhere could move to, or return to, New Mexico and successfully petition for their marriages to be recognized. Existing law states that marriages granted elsewhere will be honored in New Mexico, though with the caveat that "strong public opinion" against a marriage could invalidate it in the state.
AG Gary King issued his opinion on Jan. 4, according to an Associated Press article from the following day. King’s opinion contradicted that of an earlier AG, Patricia Madrid, who advised in 2004 that state law denied same-sex couples the right to enter into marriage.
"Without an identifiable adverse public policy in this area, we conclude that a court addressing the issue would likely hold ... that a valid same-sex marriage from another jurisdiction is valid in New Mexico," King said.
State Rep. and House Judiciary Committee chair Al Park, a Democrat, had requested the attorney general’s opinion. Park warned that King’s opinion would "galvanize" foes of gay and lesbian families; State Sen. Sharer already has said that he intends to re-introduce the ballot initiative that would re-write the state constitution and put legal equality out of reach for same-sex couples.
"I believe that the citizens of New Mexico not only have a right, but have an obligation to define their own culture. Culture should not be defined by a judge or an attorney general. This is something that the citizens of New Mexico ought to have a right to vote on," Sharer said.
The governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, a Republican, opposes family parity, the AP article noted.
If New Mexico’s state government did begin to honor marriages granted elsewhere, it would join New York in doing so despite neither state offering marriage for gays and lesbians within its own jurisdiction. Similarly, marriages granted in Mexico City are honored throughout Mexico, following a decision by that nation’s supreme court last year.