New Mexico has become the 17th U.S. state to approve marriage equality, and the first state in the Southwest United States to do so. The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled “the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law.” The Court declared that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated the Equal Protection clause of the New Mexico constitution. The ruling means that all of New Mexico’s county clerks must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.
New Mexico was a unique case in that it was the only state in the country that had no law of any kind dealing with same-sex marriage. State statutes contained references to “husband” and “wife,” and included a marriage license application that has a section for male and female applicants, but not male and male or female and female. This implicit endorsement of opposite-sex marriages only was been used to deny same-sex marriage licenses.
The Democrat-controlled legislature has previously turned down legislation allowing for marriage equality, as well as a constitutional amendment that would have allowed voters to decide whether to legalize gay marriage. Until this year, all efforts to legalize or ban same-sex marriage had failed in equal measure.
In August, 2013, a Dona Ana County Clerk independently decided to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Several other counties followed suit, and on August 29, New Mexico’s county clerks voted unanimously to ask the New Mexico Supreme Court to rule on the legality of same-sex marriage in the state. 2013 was also the first year marriage equality saw a majority of support among the populace.
During the proceedings, marriage equality opponents claimed in court that the state had a legitimate governmental interest in “responsible procreation and childrearing.” The court rejected this argument, stating that this alleged interest “is not reflected in the history of the development of New Mexico’s marriage laws. Procreation has never been a condition of marriage under New Mexico law, as evidenced by the fact that aged, infertile, and those who choose not to have children are not precluded from marrying. In addition, New Mexico law recognizes the right of same-gender couples to raise children.”
The Court’s decision states that the purpose of marriage, regardless of gender, is to “bring stability and order to the legal relationship of committed couples by defining their rights and responsibilities as to one another, their children if they choose to raise children together, and their property.” The decision also mentions how transgender people may be subject to the same kind of discrimination this ruling is supposed to protect against.
The State Supreme Court’s ruling was unanimous.