Sunday, June 16, 2013

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Evolving With Gary King

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
June 16, 2013

Attorney General Gary King caught flack recently when he announced he would not be offering a formal opinion on whether state laws allow same-sex marriage. He advised county clerks around the state to keep refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

King said at a news conference he won’t issue a formal opinion because of pending litigation over the issue of same-sex marriage licenses. A legal analysis by his staff concluded that state law doesn’t allow same-sex marriage but could be vulnerable to a constitutional challenge.

The AG’s non-action prompted Gov. Susana Martinez to say she agrees with King. That’s probably not something that someone running for governor in next year’s Democratic primary — as King is — wants to hear.

At that news conference, though, King said that his personal opinion — which, like formal attorney general opinions, is nonbinding — is that gay couples should have the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples.

But King didn’t always feel that way.

Jerry Lee Alwin
Back in 1997, when King was a legislator, he was chairman of the House Consumer & Public Affairs Committee. The committee that year considered House Bill 640, a classic “Defense of Marriage Act,” sponsored by then Rep. Jerry Lee Alwin, R-Albuquerque.

“If you accept same-sex marriages today, then you can’t stop marriages of incest, polygamy or even human-animal relations,” Alwin told the committee.

That must have convinced them.

All members present, including King, voted to recommend the bill, sending it on to the House Judiciary Committee.

Not only did the bill specifically prohibit marriage between people of the same gender and define marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, respectively,” it also said that no same-sex marriage that was valid in other states or countries “shall be valid, binding or enforceable in this state.”

More than two years ago, King issued a formal opinion, saying, “A comprehensive legal analysis by my office concludes that valid same-sex marriages in other states would likely be valid in New Mexico.” Of course, he couldn’t have come to that conclusion had the bill he voted for become law.

On the day of the vote, King told The New Mexican that he voted for Alwin’s bill because it is broadly supported by his constituents.

“We are a representative democracy, and the majority of people who live in my district are for this bill,” he said. When asked what his own views were, King told a reporter, “My personal opinions will have to stay my personal opinions,” he added.

Until 2013, I guess.

HB 640 went on to stall in House Judiciary. Similar bills have been introduced in almost every legislative session since then. These days they normally die in Consumer & Public Affairs.

The evolution will not be televised. Asked about this last week, a spokesman for King replied, “His views on same-sex marriage have changed. Over time, it has become clear that even domestic partnerships, which he originally supported, did not sufficiently address the constitutional rights of same-sex couples. His position has become more informed over the years and he is confident that same-sex couples are entitled to equal protection, to the same rights that opposite-sex couples enjoy today.”

King’s not the only politician who has changed his mind about gay marriage since the ’90s. Back then, Bill Richardson was leading the charge in Congress to pass the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

During that 1997 legislative session, Alwin’s bill was endorsed by another Gary, Gov. Gary Johnson.

“Call us old-fashioned, but we’re against same-sex marriage,” a spokesman for the governor said of the bill.

Johnson, however, became a vocal champion of marriage equality by the time he ran for president on the Libertarian ticket last year.

President Barack Obama publicly “evolved” on the issue. I’m pretty sure we’ll see more politicians follow suit.