ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - As same-sex marriage becomes legal almost randomly in New Mexico counties, a definitive statewide resolution on the legality could come from several directions including an amendment to the state constitution.
So for now three possible paths seem possible:
- The state Supreme Court with cases already pending may decide if same-sex marriage is legal in New Mexico.
- A bloc of Republican lawmakers says it's planning legal action to stop county clerks from handing out marriage licenses until the Legislature, courts or voters act.
- Gov. Susana Martinez, who opposes same-sex marriages, would prefer the Legislature let voters weigh in on amending the state constitution.
But a constitutional amendment defining who can marry is not a new idea, and for years any effort to address it in the Legislature hasn't come remotely close to getting on the ballot.
Meanwhile Taos and Valencia counties on Tuesday began issuing same-sex licenses joining Bernalillo, Doña Ana and Santa Fe counties, which started last week.
So what are the odds of a proposed amendment emerging from the Legislature during the 30-day short session that begins on Jan. 21?
Many of those who cover the Roundhouse regularly say the answer depends on the building just down Don Gaspar Avenue and the five Democrats who make up the state Supreme Court.
"If they take it on and they give the thumbs up for same-sex marriage, I think that's pretty much going to be the end of the discussion," said Rob Nikolewski who writes for the Libertarian-leaning New Mexico Watchdog website. "It would not surprise me if some Republicans brought it up, but I think that will take a lot of the steam out of the argument."
Lawmakers will arrive at the capitol in January with just 30 days to pass a budget and likely deal with high-priority problems like lottery scholarships, education policy and water issues. The constitution limits the 30-day sessions to the budget and issues requested by the governor.
Thirty days sounds like a lot of time, but for the legislature, it's not.
"Probably all these politicians want (same-sex marriage) going to the court so they don't have to deal with it," said Santa Fe New Mexican's Steve Terrell, who's been watching the Roundhouse for a dozen years. Those he's talked to think it's just not the issue it was 10 years ago even for socially conservative Democrats.
"They've introduced bills like that, both laws and constitutional amendments, every year since at least I've been here, probably longer," Terrell said.
Every effort to define marriage one way or the other has failed.
But back to that building down the road, the Supreme Court.
"Now, if the Supreme Court punts on it, then it's going to be a free-for-all," Nikolewski said.
The way it works for the Supreme Court, the justices can't just look at everything that's happening right now and decide to take up the matter. They have to be asked to hear a case on appeal.
A University of New Mexico law school professor told KRQE News 13 if voters were to ban same-sex marriage, all the marriages recently and about to be celebrated would still be valid.
Attorney General Gary King offered up the same opinion Wednesday regarding the 64 marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples in Sandoval County in 2004. While the attorney general at the time, Patsy Madrid, went to court to stop the county clerk from issuing the licenses, King says the marriages are valid since only a court can annul them.
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