Albuquerque, N.M. • More than 100 people lined up in Albuquerque Tuesday morning as the clerk in New Mexico’s most populous county began issuing marriages licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
The Bernalillo County clerk opened her office to the excited crowd at 8 a.m., and a mass wedding was planned at noon in Albuquerque’s Civic Plaza.
Patricia Catlett, a 61-year-old graphic designer from Albuquerque, and her partner of 25 years, Karen Schmiege, a 69-year-old retired librarian, were the first to get their license in Bernalillo County.
"I am so excited I can’t stand it," Schmiege said as they were signing their papers.
As they walked out of the booth where they received their license, the crowd applauded and yelled in celebration. The couple raised their hand, and the crowd responded by putting their fists in the air.
"I want her to take me to Costa Rica," Schmiege said. "She promised."
The Bernalillo County clerk began recognizing same-sex unions after State District Judge Alan Malott on Monday declared gay marriage legal, saying New Mexico’s constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
She joins clerks from the state’s other two population centers in recognizing same-sex unions.
Last week, a judge in Santa Fe ordered the county clerk there to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Two days earlier, the clerk in the southern New Mexico county of Dona Ana decided to recognize same-sex unions.
But Malott’s ruling was seen as more sweeping than the temporary Santa Fe order because he directly declared gay marriage was legal.
Laura Schauer Ives, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, called it "monumental" and said the group didn’t expect such a broad decision by Malott.
The judge had been asked only to order that the state recognize, on her death certificate, a dying woman’s marriage Friday in Santa Fe to her longtime partner.
But after a short hearing in which neither the counties nor the state objected to the request, Malott also ruled on the broader lawsuit by that couple and five others seeking marriage licenses.
It’s uncertain whether clerks in the state’s 30 other counties, who were not defendants in the lawsuit, will use the judge’s ruling as a signal that they can issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Assistant Attorney General Scott Fuqua said the decision wasn’t binding on clerks outside Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties.
A group of Republican legislators is planning to file a lawsuit to stop clerks from issuing licenses to same-sex couples.
One of those lawmakers, Sen. William Sharer of Farmington, said it is up to the state Legislature, with the consent of the governor, to make laws — not the county clerks or district judges.
"It is inexplicable how a district court just today discovered a new definition of marriage in our laws, when our marriage law has not been changed in over a century," Sharer said.
Helen Taylor, 45 and Apryl Harris, 47, of Rio Rancho, didn’t want to wait until the battle was played out in state courts.
The emotional couple was among the first to receive marriage licenses in Bernalillo County Tuesday. They had originally planned to get married in New York in February.
"It was better to do it here," Harris said. "This is our home."
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