New Mexico clerk quits over gay marriage ruling

AP News
Posted: Dec 20, 2013 4:22 PM
New Mexico clerk quits over gay marriage ruling

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A rural eastern New Mexico county clerk and her deputy resigned Friday rather than abide by a state Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage, officials said.

Roosevelt County manager Charlene Webb confirmed that Clerk Donna Carpenter and Deputy Clerk Janet Collins announced their resignations Friday morning.

Webb declined to say why they quit. But county commissioners said it was in protest of Thursday's Supreme Court ruling declaring it unconstitutional to bar same-sex couples from getting marriage licenses.

Commissioner Bill Cathey said the two had made it clear they would quit "rather than be associated with that."

Webb says the clerk's office is closed until the commission meets Monday to hire a replacement.

Carpenter doesn't have a current phone listing, and there was no answer Friday at a listing for Collins.

Roosevelt is a rural, conservative county along the Texas-New Mexico border. Its county seat is Portales, a town of about 12,000.

Cathey said Carpenter's resignation was no surprise.

"She told us in the past that's what she would do," he said. "... I am personally very disappointed in the decision of the judges, and I don't blame our clerk for doing what she did."

Still, he said he was confident the commission would be able to appoint a replacement on Monday who would follow the court's order.

Meantime, other rural counties began issuing gay marriage licenses following the Thursday ruling, which came after county officials asked the high court to clarify the law and establish a uniform state policy on gay marriage.

In northwestern New Mexico, the San Juan County Clerk's Office gave its first marriage license to a same-sex couple Thursday afternoon, the Farmington Daily-Times reported.

Three hours later, Aztec women Luciana Velasquez and Deann Toadlena were married under Christmas lights at Orchard Park in downtown Farmington.

"We've been waiting for seven years. It's the best day of my life," said Toadlena, who plans to change her last name to Velasquez. "Everything I wanted was given to me today."

Historically, county clerks in New Mexico have denied marriage licenses to same-sex couples because state statutes include a marriage license application with sections for male and female applicants.

However, the state's more populous counties this fall began issuing licenses on their own and in response to lower court rulings. A few rural counties also followed suit, but most of the smaller counties were awaiting a final decision from the high court.

Despite the ruling, gay marriage opponents are vowing the fight is not over.

State Sen. William Sharer, a Farmington Republican, said he will ask the Legislature in January to put to voters a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.

"If they are saying it is unconstitutional, we need to make it constitutional," he said.

It's unclear how much traction Sharer's proposal, which bucks a growing national tide toward legalizing gay marriage, will have come January. New Mexico is the 17th state to recognize the unions.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature repeatedly has turned down proposals for a constitutional amendment to allow voters to decide whether to legalize gay marriage.

And Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican who has opposed same-sex marriage, said she would have preferred to see voters, not the courts, decide the issue. She urged New Mexicans to "respect one another in their discourse" and turn their focus to other issues facing the state.

"As we move forward, I am hopeful that we will not be divided, as we must come together to tackle very pressing issues, like reforming education and growing our economy, in the weeks and months ahead," Martinez said.