Doña Ana County now issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples

Posted at: 08/21/2013 8:45 PM
By: Maria Guerrero, KOB Eyewitness News 4

A Southern New Mexico county is doing something no other county is doing - issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The Doña Ana County Clerk's Office announced its decision at 8 a.m. Wednesday. By 5 p.m. the clerk's office issued marriage licenses to a total of 42 gay couples.

The county clerk of five years says he is certain same-sex marriage is legal in New Mexico and that the New Mexico Supreme Court will see that.

Therefore, he had decided not to wait a minute longer to marry same-gender couples.

One by one they entered the Doña Ana County Clerk's Office.

Some were barely able to say the words they've wanted to say for so long:

We're here to get married.

Some were at work when they heard the news.

They rushed to Las Cruces so as to not miss their chance to finally be recognized.

"It's been a long time coming," said Mark Basten.

"We've been together for 38 years," described his partner, Mike Ohearn. "We've been waiting for the state of New Mexico to do something. We had moved from Minnesota…so we missed it there."

Marieka Brown and her partner of 11 years Jeanne Abkes say their new marriage license will allow them to file joint tax returns and adopt each other's children.

But they also acknowledge their union may not be recognized for long.

"That's a sad feeling," said Brown. "I just feel any movement forward even if it's half-a-day we get to enjoy, you know. it's a step forward and it's people seeing that we're just real people. you know. just …How can love be wrong?"

Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins says he's been thinking about issuing licenses since June.

He says because the state's High Court sent the same-sex marriage question back to the lower courts for review, it could take months, even years before the question is resolved.

After reading the New Mexico Constitution, Ellins says it's clear the state's marriage statutes are gender neutral and do not expressly prohibit the county from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

"It says equal protection will not be denied to people because of their sex.

I took an oath to uphold the constitution of the state of New Mexico, I'm upholding it," said Ellins.

Some couples held marriage ceremonies outside the county's Government Center after they received their marriage licenses.

Ellins says his office will be open again Thursday at 8 a.m.

He will continue to issue licenses to same-sex couples, unless otherwise told by a judge.

He also says he got a call Wednesday from another county clerk who is considering following in his decision to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

Ellins says he'd rather not say which county clerk called him.