Eight more Republican lawmakers have joined a lawsuit in New Mexico to argue a county clerk has usurped state law by recognizing same-sex marriages. Meanwhile, an eighth county in the state has begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, broadening the state's legal fight on the issue.
Last Friday, seven Republican lawmakers filed a lawsuit against Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins, who began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples two weeks ago under the argument that New Mexico's marriage laws are "gender neutral," and therefore do not expressly prohibit him from distributing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The lawsuit against Ellins filed by the initial seven Republican lawmakers has since been joined by eight more Republican lawmakers, all of whom argue that Ellins is overstepping his power by distributing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Ellins "has violated the New Mexico Constitution's separation of powers doctrine by determining on his own which laws he will enforce based upon his interpretation of the statutes and constitution," the lawsuit reads.
"It's really a separation of powers issues," Rep. Paul Bandy, one of the eight GOP lawmakers to step in on the lawsuit filed in district court, told Reuters. "I don't think the county clerk has the power to make this decision."
Paul Becht, an Albuquerque lawyer for the GOP legislators and a former state senator, told the Associated Press that his clients filed the lawsuit because they believe the issue of same-sex marriage in the state should be addressed by the legislature, and a county clerk should not take the matter into his own hands simply due to his personal beliefs.
In recent weeks, a total of eight counties in New Mexico have begun to defy state law by issuing same-sex marriage licenses. New Mexico does not have a specific ban against same-sex marriage, but its state statutes do make references to a "man" and "wife" when describing marriage laws. Additionally, marriage license applications in the state offer an option of "male" or "female." Although the state has no definitive ban on same-sex marriage, in the past clerks have relied on these provisions to deny marriage licenses to gay couples.
Although Ellins began the movement to issue same-sex marriages independently on August 21, other counties have been court ordered to issue same-sex marriage licenses. In late August, a judge in Bernalillo County, which encompasses Albuquerque, ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses due to the state's law regarding gender discrimination and equal protection. Shortly before, a judge in Santa Fe County ruled that because the state's constitution did not specifically prohibit same-sex marriage, the county's clerk had to issue same-sex marriage licenses or return to court to explain why they refuse to do so.
Los Alamos County Clerk's office became the eighth county in the state to issue a same-sex marriage license on Wednesday following a district court's ruling that determined same-sex couples are entitled to marry. The ruling came after the same-sex couple Janet Newton and Maria Thibodeau filed a lawsuit against County Clerk Sharon Stover when Stover refused to grant them a marriage license.
In order to create some uniformity among all counties in the state, several county clerks, both Democrat and Republican, have joined a lawsuit that challenges the previous Bernalillo ruling allowing same-sex marriage. This lawsuit could result in an appeal in the state's Supreme Court that would provide a statewide, uniform decision on same-sex marriage.