Gay Marriage Is Legal in New Mexico, State Supreme Court Rules

By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 19, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Gay marriage was ruled constitutional by the New Mexico Supreme Court on Thursday, making it the 17th state to legalize gay marriage.

Almost a fourth of New Mexico's counties have begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples since August, prompting the state's Supreme Court to step in and clarify the law, reports The Associated Press.

How did the New Mexico High Court reach this historic decision?

No Law for or Against Same-Sex Marriage in N.M.

Unlike many other states which have passed marriage amendments -- like the recently defeated Proposition 8 in California, which explicitly defined legal marriage as being between one man and one woman -- New Mexico doesn't have any explicit laws regarding gay marriage.

Instead, there has simply been a historical custom of state and local officials refusing to issue marriage licenses in New Mexico to gay couples.

That changed earlier this year when several New Mexico counties started issuing same-sex marriage licenses, a move that was supported by lower state court rulings. Those cases were challenged, and the issue of gay marriage found its way to the New Mexico Supreme Court.

Equal Protection Demands Marriage Equality, Court Explains

Unlike the U.S. Constitution, the New Mexico Constitution (Article II Section 18) specifically provides that "[e]quality of rights under law shall not be denied on account of the sex of any person." So while the U.S. Supreme Court has spent the last few decades deliberating about gender equality and the 14th Amendment, the Land of Enchantment has it explicitly written into its constitution.

The New Mexico Supreme Court also recognizes LGBT persons as a protected group entitled to the same judicial scrutiny as laws affecting gender. For a state action that discriminates against gays and lesbians to be upheld, the High Court ruled there must be "an important government interest" which is "substantially related to the law."

The state Supreme Court was not impressed that promoting procreation was important or substantially related to opposite-sex marriage in New Mexico -- especially since the state allows gay couples to adopt and continues to let "the aged, the infertile, and those who choose not to have children" to get married.

Since denying gay couples the right to marry did not meet this level of judicial scrutiny, the court held "the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry."

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