BERNALILLO, N.M. – Dozens of gay and lesbian couples arrived in this rural town Friday to get married after a county clerk announced she would grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but the offer was soon revoked.
The Sandoval County (search) clerk's office granted licenses to 26 same-sex couples before New Mexico attorney general Patricia Madrid (search) issued a late afternoon opinion saying the licenses were "invalid under state law."
The clerk's office stopped issuing licenses and told newly wed couples their licenses were invalid. A crowd outside the office reacted with boos and shouts as a deputy clerk read the attorney general's legal advice.
"This is not OK. We deserve rights," shouted Carolyn Ford (search), angrily pointing a finger while holding a bouquet of red and white roses.
More than 60 couples had signed up for applications after county Clerk Victoria Dunlap decided to grant the licenses.
Dunlap said she made the decision after County Attorney David Mathews determined New Mexico law is unclear on the issue. He said state law defines marriage as a contract between parties but does not mention gender.
"It's going to be across the country and so we wanted to be ahead of the curve," Dunlap said.
Outside the courthouse, two preachers spent the day conducting marriage ceremonies.
"When we heard the news this morning, we knew we couldn't wait. We had to come down here," said Jenifer Albright of Albuquerque, who exchanged vows with partner Anne Shultz.
Dunlap's decision came just over a week after San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses to thousands of gay couples in a direct challenge to California law.
Gov. Bill Richardson reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage at a news conference Friday. He said he expects the state Supreme Court will have to resolve the question of whether state law allows for marriage licenses to be issued to gay or lesbian couples.
"I do believe that marriage is between a man and woman. So I oppose same-sex marriage," Richardson said.
However, he expressed support for civil unions of same-sex couples. Last year, the governor signed an executive order extending benefits such as health insurance to domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees.
Republican state Sen. Steve Komadina criticized Dunlap's decision to set the process in motion before getting a legal opinion from Madrid.
"I feel badly that action was taken before an answer was obtained," Komadina said. "That was very irresponsible and will cause heartache to people on all sides of the question."
Bernalillo is a few miles north of Albuquerque, New Mexico's largest city.