Friday, August 23, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage Begins

County Commissioner Liz Stephanics & Linda Siegle
The floodgates have opened. Same-sex marriage has begun in Santa Fe.

County Clerk Geraldine Salazar this afternoon began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples following an order from state District Judge Sarah Singleton that said Salazar should immediately start issuing the licenses or appear at a court hearing to show good cause why she shouldn't.

There was almost a party atmosphere at the  County Administration building as couples lined up to get marriage licenses -- the first time in New Mexico in which the issuance of such licenses was backed up by a court order. Friends and loved ones hugged each other in the hallways while some  of the couples decided to get married right away in the County Commission Chambers upstairs.

One person who wasn't happy, however, was state Sen. Bill Sharer, R-Farmington, a long-time opponent of gay marriage. "This isn't about marriage, it's about who makes laws," Sharer said in a telephone interview. "It shouldn't be a county clerk or a district judge. If this is how we make laws, one person deciding, we all should be scared to death."

Shortly before 5 p.m. a staffer in the clerk's office said 41 same-sex couples had been issued licenses. "And they're still coming," he said. The clerk's office is staying open until 7 p.m. to handle the line gay couples flocking in to get licenses.

The clerk's office began issuing the licenses around 2 p.m. Friday.

The first couple to take advantage of the new licenses was County Commissioner Liz Stephanics and her partner of 23 years, Linda Siegle, who is a longtime lobbyist for gay rights as well as a member of the Santa Fe Community College board. They were married minutes later in the commission chambers by Santa Fe Probate Judge Mark Basham.

Among those attending the quickly were County Manager Katherine Miller, City Councilor Patti Bushee, Santa Fe's first openly gay elected official and District Attorney Angela "Spence" Pacheco -- who was married to her partner in 2004 when the Sandoval Country clerk decided to issue licenses to gay couples. (That stopped after then attorney general Patricia Madrid obtained a restraining order.)

The next same-sex couple to receive a license were Alexander Hanna and Yon Hudson, a Santa Fe couple whose lawsuit prompted the order from Singleton. Both said they intend to wait on their wedding until family and friends from out of town can attend.

That also was the plan for Carolyn Dechaine, a local psycotherapist and her partner Kristina McKeown, who works as a prototype machinist for Los Alamos National Laboratory. "We want to take our time and plan it," Dechaine said soon after getting the license.

Dechaine and McKeown decided to go to the courthouse Friday afternoon after seeing a Facebook post by Bushee.
Neuman and Roper

Another couple to get a license and get married Friday was Jen Roper and Angelique Neuman of Pojoaque. Earlier this week, Roper, who is suffering brain cancer, filed an emergency court request for a marriage license because of her deteriorating health. They got married at the Christus-St. Vincent Cancer Center, where Roper was being treated with chemo therapy.

Santa Fe Mayor David Coss served as a witness on two of the marriage licenses. He signed licenses for Howard K. Rogers and Jerry D. Permenter, both of Santa Fe and Krista Turner from Albuquerque and Lisa Hunsicker from Denver, Colorado. Those couples were marriedin a joint wedding with seven other couples.

Performing that ceremony was Rev. Talitha Arnold and Rev. Brandon Johnson of United Church of Santa Fe. Arnold told a reporter that her church has supported equality for gay people since the early 1970s. "Jesus calls us to love and seek justice and equality for all people," she said.

Early in the day Salazar said she wouldn't immediately start issuing licenses. But by early afternoon, she changed her mind..

“I am a fervent supporter of same-sex marriage in New Mexico and have always believed that the restrictive and antiquated statutes in our state must fall to principles of equal protection embodied in our constitution," Salazar said in a statement. "I have been frustrated recently wanting to issue licenses but being confronted with long standing statutes that do not permit it. Now that Judge Singleton has ordered me to issue a license to Messrs. Hanna and Hudson on constitutional grounds, I intend to do so and to issue a license to any same-sex couple who desires one and are otherwise qualified. By complying with the Judge’ s order we will be issuing licenses legally and will not continue to use limited county resources on further litigation.”

Sharer said he and 28 other Republican legislators had planned to file a legal action against Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins, who this week began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

However, the fact that the Santa Fe situation came about due to a court order threw a monkey wrench in those plans. He said he hopes to challenge Singleton's order and Ellins' decision, but he's not sure what form that challenge will take.

More in tomorrow's New Mexican
UPDATE 6:30 p.m. The original version had the wrong year for Spence Pacheco's marriage. It has been corrected.