SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico judge has ordered the clerk of the state's third-largest county to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples or show why that shouldn't happen, a move that comes as gay couples flock to another county in the state that began granting them licenses this week.
District Judge Sarah Singleton issued the order late Thursday to Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar in a lawsuit filed by two Santa Fe men. It represents the first time a New Mexico judge has ruled that gay and lesbian couples can be married, said state Rep. Brian Egolf, a lawyer representing the couple.
Singleton said Salazar must grant the marriage licenses or appear in court Sept. 26 to tell her why that shouldn't occur. Salazar didn't immediately return a telephone call from The Associated Press.
Egolf said Friday the ruling could help speed a resolution of the gay marriage issue in the state.
"This will be the first time a court anywhere in New Mexico ... has ordered same-sex couples to be married," said Egolf, a Santa Fe Democrat who unsuccessfully pushed in the Legislature for a constitutional amendment to legalize gay marriage.
He and other activists are trying to get a lawsuit before the state Supreme Court to decide whether same-sex couples legally can be married in the state.
New Mexico law doesn't explicitly prohibit or authorize same-sex couples to be married. The attorney general's office has interpreted the law to prohibit gay marriage, but Attorney General Gary King also contends the law violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law.
Singleton, in her order, said that "reading a sex or sexual orientation requirement into the laws of New Mexico violates the state constitution, which mandates that 'equality of rights under law shall not be denied on account of the sex of any person.'"
The order comes as about 90 same-sex couples have received marriage licenses in southern New Mexico since Wednesday, when the Dona Ana County clerk in Las Cruces decided to start granting them.
A group of Republican legislators is planning to file a lawsuit to stop the clerk in Dona Ana County, which is the second largest county in the state.
Dona Ana Chief Deputy Clerk Mario Jimenez said Texas couples are traveling to the border region to get married.
He said Jerrett Morris and Jeffrey Tingley obtained their marriage license Friday. The pair just happened to be in town from Dallas visiting family when they decided to go to the courthouse in Las Cruces to get their license.
Jimenez said another same-sex couple from Dallas is flying into the region later Friday to get married, and a couple from San Antonio is expected next week.
"They are traveling to change their lives," Jimenez said. "And more are coming."
Associated Press writer Russell Contreras in Albuquerque contributed to this report.