A New Mexico county clerk decided all on his own to hand out marriage licenses to gay couples — in a state that hasn’t officially legalized gay marriage.
Ellins’ bold move is a sign that the fight for gay marriage didn’t end when the Supreme Court struck down the anti-gay Defence of Marriage Act in June, UCLA Law professor Adam Winkler told Business Insider.
“This is really a sign that the battle over gay marriage is just now heating up,” Winkler said. “The issue is not going away. We are seeing more and more litigation challenging discriminatory marriage laws.”
The gay marriage situation in New Mexico is a little complicated, The New York Times reported.
The state’s marriage law doesn’t specifically mention gender, but the state’s marriage applications have a space for the names of the “bride” and “groom.” Ellins, a former deputy secretary of state for Colorado, apparently got fed up with that ambiguity and acted on his own.
A court may put a stop to those efforts, Winkler told BI. “New Mexico law does not provide for same-sex marriage, and the clerk is likely to be found to have exceeded the clerk’s authority,” Winkler said.
The state’s governor, Susana Martinez, is opposed to gay marriage, so she may well file a lawsuit to stop Ellins. Her spokesman said voters should get to decide the issue, “not one random clerk,” according to The Times.
Ellins’ efforts may start a conversation that will eventually lead the New Mexico legislature to legalise gay marriage. For his part, Ellins says he’ll keep issuing licenses until a judge tells him to stop.
“If the court tells me to stop, I’ll stop,” Ellins told The New York Times. “But until that happens, we’re open for business.”
He is not the first rogue official to give gays the right to marry.
The mayor of the tiny New York town of New Paltz, Jason West, took it upon himself to start performing same-sex weddings in the Village Hall back in 2004. He said he considered it his “moral obligation,” according to CNN. He was later charged with solemnizing a marriage without a licence. The charges were eventually dropped.
That same year, in California, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom directed the city and county to start handing out marriage licenses to gays. While the marriages were voided, Newsom’s move helped build momentum for the successful court case that made gay marriage legal in California.
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