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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 22, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 12
Everything's Gay in Santa Fe
Section One
ALL STORIES
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Everything's Gay in Santa Fe

Mayor wants to issue same-sex marriage licenses, city attorney says OK

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Santa Fe Mayor David Coss says New Mexico county clerks should start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and the Santa Fe City Attorney says it would be legal to do so.

Coss says he and City Council member Patti Bushee will introduce a resolution at the March 27 council meeting 'recognizing' the legality of same-sex marriage.

'People's lives are short and when you're waiting for your rights, you know, how long do you have to wait? I'm sorry we didn't do it 10 years ago. I don't think we should wait another 10 years before we push the issue,' Coss told NBC News. 'Let's start treating everybody equally under the law.'

City Attorney Geno Zamora issued a legal memorandum supporting the mayor. New Mexico's marriage law is gender-neutral, Zamora says, and lacks an explicit prohibition on same-sex marriage. The state also recognizes same-sex marriages concluded in other states, and the state constitution guarantees equal treatment on the basis of sex.

Though the projected City Council resolution would not immediately authorize any marriages, Zamora said Santa Fe wanted to send a message to the U.S. Supreme Court on the DOMA case it will hear on March 27.

'The decision was made ... we cannot wait any longer to protect the rights of our brothers and sisters, our colleagues and our community members,' he said. 'It's very important for cities and city attorney's offices to enter this debate recognizing equal rights for their citizens.'

COUNTY CLERK SAYS NO
Despite the mayor's position, Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar told reporters on March 19 that she would not issue licenses to Gay and Lesbian couples, even though she would like to, because she felt she is unable to do so under the law.

'I would love to be able to issue marriage licenses [to same-sex couples] but under the current law, I feel I'm not free and clear to do so. The Legislature creates the laws and the judges interpret the laws and I as a county clerk do not create or interpret laws,' she said. 'And I feel that my oath of office does not allow to me act counter to the laws of New Mexico.'

Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins also said he will not issue same-sex licenses. His interpretation of state law is that when a marriage license is issued to a couple never married before, it can only go to a man and a woman, he said.

'In presenting an application for a marriage license that statute talks about a male providing his information and a female providing hers,' Ellins said. 'I wouldn't issue a license to a same-sex couple unless their union was legally recognized in another state after they moved here.'

According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, a clerk in Sandoval County began issuing same-sex marriage licenses in 2004, and gave out 64 of them before the state Attorney General declared them invalid and ordered her to stop.

The marriage statute is 'sufficiently vague' on the issue to give Santa Fe a plausible argument, said Phil Sisneros, a spokesperson for New Mexico's attorney general.

TEST CASE NEEDED
Sisneros said that nothing was likely to happen until a county clerk attempted to grant a license to a same-sex couple. At that point, an anti-equality group may file a lawsuit or the attorney general could be asked to weigh in, among other possible scenarios.

'We believe that the current New Mexico State Constitution and the state marriage statute provides same-sex couples the same marriage rights as opposite-sex couples,' New Mexico ACLU Director Peter Simonson said. 'However, the right of all New Mexicans to marry should be clear and explicit. The courts will need to provide some definitive guidance on this matter.'

Coss was first elected mayor of Santa Fe in 2006 and was re-elected in 2010. As a City Council member, he sponsored Santa Fe's living-wage ordinance that set the city's minimum wage at $9.50 per hour. He also supported the Santa Fe Homes Program, an award-winning ordinance that requires 30% affordable housing in all new residential developments.

He previously headed the New Mexico Environmental Protection Division and was president of Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 7037, representing state government workers. Coss's daughter is a Lesbian, and City Attorney Zamora's brother is Gay.

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