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New Mexico same-sex marriage ruling comes amid long wait, national trend

  • Miriam Rand, 64, left, and Ona Porter, 67, both of Albuquerque, N.M., talk to reporters Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, after the New Mexico Supreme Court declared it was unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples in the state. The couple were part of a lawsuit that brought the case before the state's highest court. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)The Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2013 file photo, same-sex couples pack the Bernalillo County Clerk's office in Albuquerque with anticipation of obtaining a marriage license. The New Mexico Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in the state Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, declaring in a ruling that it is unconstitutional to deny a marriage license to gay and lesbian couples. New Mexico joins 16 states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay marriage. (AP Photo/Albuquerque Journal, Roberto Rosales, File)The Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Aug. 27, 2013 file photo, Desiree Padilla, left, and her partner Betty Garcia kiss after exchanging vows in a ceremony performed by the Rev. Judith Maynard, background, in Albuquerque. The New Mexico Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in the state Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, declaring in a ruling that it is unconstitutional to deny a marriage license to gay and lesbian couples. New Mexico joins 16 states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay marriage. (AP Photo/The Albuquerque Journal, Roberto Rosales, File)The Associated Press

Miriam Rand and Ono Porter were having lunch when the couple got a call that they'd been waiting for, for three decades: New Mexico's Supreme Court had just issued a ruling on same-sex marriage.

But they didn't have the details.

The plaintiffs in the same-sex marriage case finished their New Mexico green chile and then began checking their phones for updates. They soon started receiving congratulations from friends and family. The state's highest court declared it was unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

"I was thrilled," Porter said Thursday, hours after the court decision was announced. "It is most meaningful in terms of really affirming our love and commitment to one another."

Barring couples like Porter, 67, and Rand, 64, from getting married violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution, the court ruled.

"We hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law," Justice Edward L. Chavez wrote.

With that ruling, New Mexico joined 16 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing gay marriage either through legislation, court rulings or voter referendums in a trend that has dramatically shifted in just a few years nationally.

"At first, I never thought I'd see this in my lifetime," Rand said. "But over the last few years you began noticing a change in public opinion and I thought...maybe."

Before the ruling, eight of New Mexico's 33 counties had already started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

County officials asked the high court to clarify the law and establish a uniform state policy on gay marriage. Historically, county clerks have denied marriage licenses to same-sex couples because state statutes include a marriage license application with sections for male and female applicants.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature repeatedly has turned down proposals for domestic partnerships for same-sex couples and a constitutional amendment that would have allowed voters to decide whether to legalize gay marriage. Measures to ban same-sex marriage also have failed.

Advocacy groups and supporters hailed the decision.

"I can't get past happy, happy, happy at the Supreme Court's unanimous decision that rules in favor of freedom and equality for everyone to marry the person they love," Santa Fe Mayor David Coss said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights represented same-sex couples in the Supreme Court case. They contended gay marriage must be allowed because of constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law and a state constitutional prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Meanwhile groups like the Flora Vista-based Voices for Family Values vowed to fight on. The group said its members already are gathering signatures for petitions to present to lawmakers during the upcoming session in January.

"The Catholic Church respects and loves the gay and lesbian members of our community," the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement. "We will continue to promote Catholic teaching of the Biblical definition of marriage to be that of one man and one woman."

Under the ruling, clergy who disagree with same-sex marriage can decline to perform wedding ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.

Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican and who has opposed same-sex marriage, said she would have preferred voters deciding the issue rather than the courts. But she urged New Mexicans to "respect one another in their discourse" and turn their focus onto 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.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras .