“Sandoval County shall be proud”
Fri February 20, 2004
By Zelie Pollon
SANTA FE, N.M. Officials in a New Mexico county next to Santa Fe said on Friday they have granted their first same-sex marriage licenses, making the state the latest battleground in the fight over gay marriage,
But it appeared uncertain whether the practice would continue as the state's attorney general declared the same-sex marriages invalid under state law late in the afternoon, prompting officials to scramble through law books to review statutes for marriage in New Mexico.
Officials from rural Sandoval County, which is southwest of Santa Fe and home to a massive Intel Corp. semiconductor manufacturing facility, said they registered 26 same-sex marriages on Friday, after determining this week there were no laws on the books that prevent gay marriages in New Mexico.
A total of 66 couples had applied just before the 4:00 p.m. (6 p.m. EST) closing time, when county officials ordered the marriages halted, while over 100 people waited outside the county offices to register.
New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid said Sandoval was operating outside of state law.
"Our legal analysis has concluded that current New Mexico law contemplates marriage as between a man and a woman," a spokeswoman for the office said.
Sandoval County Commissioner Daymon Ely asked the county clerk to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the legal questions were settled.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court has declared that state's laws limiting marriage to men and women to be discriminatory, while in California, the city of San Francisco is openly defying state law by marrying thousands of same-sex couples.
"There's nothing in the law that I can find that would prohibit issuing same-sex marriage licenses," Sandoval County Clerk Victoria Dunlap said.
"I'm sure New Mexico will become the next test ground," she said. "We're fairly open-minded here despite the rural area we're living in."
Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat who is often mentioned as a potential vice presidential nominee, has voiced his opposition to gay marriage in the past but does support equal rights for same-sex couples. His office could not be reached for comment.
Sandoval County officials said that other counties have denied same-sex unions because of a form written in 1961 that calls for one male and one female applicant for a marriage license.
As news spread of the county issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples, the lines outside the doors of the county office grew longer with couples wanting to tie the knot, said a clerk for the county, Elizabeth Dominguez.
"We hear a lot of yelling outside so I think people are pretty happy," Dominguez said.
One of those couples who received a marriage license was Susan Oliver, who came from neighboring Bernalillo County to marry her partner of two years, Melissa.
"This was such wonderful news," she said. "When he heard we could do it here, we decided to get married today."