San Miguel County Clerk Melanie Y. Rivera is joining the ranks of clerks in Doña Ana, Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties in issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
She said she made the decision after consulting with County Attorney Jesus Lopez and the county clerk’s affiliate in New Mexico. Rivera, a Democrat, said she had wanted to issue the license for a long time but waited because of the murky legal issues involved.
“I just hadn’t because I did not have an official legal opinion on it,” Rivera said. “This morning (Tuesday) Jesus (Lopez) told me that he looked, and there is nothing there that said that I shouldn’t.”
She said the president of the clerk’s affiliate advised her that if she was not comfortable issuing same sex marriage licenses that she could wait for a court order as the county clerks in Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties had done. But Rivera — who said she had been wanting to issue the licenses for years — decided it was time to just go ahead and start issuing them. In doing so, she is following in the footsteps of Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins, who started issuing marriage licenses to same sex couple last week without a court order.
“This is totally my decision, and he (Jesus Lopez) recommended that I just do it,” Rivera said.
Lopez noted that Rivera will be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples voluntarily “in accordance with our interpretation of the law.” Valencia County had reportedly also begun issuing marriage licenses.
“Under the equal protection clause of the constitution, you can’t discriminate against gay couples,” Lopez said. “I hope the New Mexico Supreme Court addresses the issue soon so that our position can be uniform in New Mexico.”
Rivera’s decision to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses was sparked by a gay couple who contacted her on Monday informing her that they planned to apply for a marriage license on Tuesday. At that point, Rivera informed the couple she would decline them a marriage license.
But after thinking the matter over, she changed her mind and was ready to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples on Tuesday.
“I just said I will go ahead and start issuing them...” Rivera said. “Around 8:30 a.m. today (Tuesday), I decided to put myself out there.”
She said that although same sex couples may go to her office to apply for a license immediately, the pre-printed forms she currently has are written to reflect a marriage between a man and a woman.
She said her staff has already ordered new marriage application forms and licenses that are gender neutral, and she hopes to have those new forms by the end of the week. The “bride and groom” wording will be replaced with the word “spouse” on the marriage license. Additionally, the new marriage licenses will read “marriage” instead of “holy bonds of matrimony.”
Rivera said that if a same-sex couple goes into her office before the new forms come in, she will issue the couple a marriage license with the current forms with the earlier portions whited out.
“This got thrown at us so quick that we did put an order for forms, but don’t have the proper paperwork,” Rivera said.
She said the forms come from Automated Election Services located in Rio Rancho and added that if she needs to drive to Rio Rancho to pick up the forms herself to get them more quickly, she is prepared to do so.
“If it was up to me personally I would have done it a long time ago, but everyone had been saying to hold off,” Rivera said. “So when Doña Ana starting doing it, my wheels started turning.”
Last Friday, State District Judge Sarah Singleton ordered Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar to issue same-sex marriage licenses, and Salazar complied by issuing her first one late Friday afternoon.
On Monday, Albuquerque-based State District Judge Alan Malott ruled that the state constitution prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Malott’s decision was viewed as a sweeping ruling because he declared that same-sex marriage is legal in New Mexico. Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver complied with Malott’s order by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Tuesday.
But The Associated Press is reporting that a group of Republican lawmakers is planning to file a lawsuit to stop clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Sen. William Sharer, a Farmington Republican, told The Associated Press that the state Legislature and governor should be making laws, not judges and county clerks.