ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - A southern New Mexico county clerk announced Wednesday that his office will begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses, just as lawyers for same-sex couples are challenging state laws that they say contradict whether the practice is legal in this southwestern state.
In a statement, Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins said that he carefully read the state laws and concluded that the "state's marriage statutes are gender neutral and do not expressly prohibit Dona Ana County from issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples."
Ellins said he had been considering issuing licenses since last June. That's when New Mexico Attorney General Gary King issued a position paper stating state laws don't allow same-sex marriage but those laws could face court challenges.
"Any further denial of marriage licenses to these couples violates the United States and New Mexico Constitution and the New Mexico Human Rights Act," Ellins said. "Dona Ana County is upholding New Mexico law by issuing these marriage licenses, and I see no reason to make committed couples in Dona Ana County wait another minute to marry."
King also asked county clerks when announcing his opinion to hold off on issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
When reached for comment Wednesday, the Attorney General's office said it had just heard about the clerk's decision and will examine it.
If acted upon, Dona Ana County would become the first county in New Mexico to actively issue same-sex licenses.
The move comes a day after a same-sex couple from Santa Fe asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to streamline the handling of lawsuits seeking to legalize gay marriage in the state.
Rep. Brian Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat and lawyer for the couple, said Tuesday the goal is to get a quick lower court decision and clear the way for an expedited ruling by the state's highest court.
The justices are being asked to consolidate all cases involving the gay marriage issue and assign them to a district court judge in Santa Fe, who would issue a ruling that would go directly to the Supreme Court for review.
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