New Mexico high court rules gay marriage legal

New Mexico’s Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, making the state the 16th to allow such unions.

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Such marriages had already been occurring in eight of the state’s counties after the unilateral decision of a county clerk to issues same-sex marriage licenses in August.

This action, along with rulings by several district court judges ordering same-sex marriages to begin in certain counties, led New Mexico county officials to petition the state’s high court to clarify the law so that it would have a uniform statewide interpretation.

Historically, New Mexico’s law has not explicitly prohibited same-sex marriage, but county clerks have interpreted the statute as applying only to opposite-sex couples due to the official marriage license application containing “male” and “female” sections.

New Mexico is the seventh state to begin same-sex marriages in 2013, following Maryland, Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Hawaii. In addition, Illinois has legalized such unions but the law does not come into effect until June 2014.

The court’s ruling, which was issued unanimously, concludes that New Mexico’s laws do in fact bar same-sex marriage despite the lack of an explicit prohibition. The ruling went on to say that this was unconstitutional under the New Mexico constitution’s equal protection clause.

The court ruled that there were not meaningful differences between opposite-sex and same-sex couples who sought to be married, and that procreation was not the overriding concern of the state’s marriage law due to the lack of restrictions on infertile couples marrying.