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New Mexico woman gets dying wish to marry her partner

SANTA FE, N.M. — A New Mexico woman got her dying wish to marry her longtime partner on Friday, not long after a federal judge ordered the Santa Fe County Clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples.

Jen Roper, 44, who is suffering from a life-threatening form of brain cancer, married Angelique Neuman in a brief ceremony in the lobby of Christus St. Vincent Regional Cancer Center, where she is hospitalized.

"I feel very privileged and hope that [marriage] extends to everyone in the state," Roper said. "We want other people in the state to be able to make the same choice."

Earlier this week, the Pojoaque, N.M. couple had asked a New Mexico court to legally marry immediately in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of New Mexico, the national ACLU, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Sutin Law Firm, and Albuquerque attorneys Maureen Sanders, Kate Girard, and Lynn Perls.

"I didn’t wake up this morning thinking that we’d be married by the end of the day,” said Neuman, whose has been Roper's partner for the past 21 years.

The couple have three children, and Roper was concerned about the future of her family due to her grave illness.

"I want to know that my family will be protected if I pass away," Roper said. "Angelique and I have been married in our hearts for 21 years and raised three wonderful children together. Because of my illness, we do not have the luxury of waiting years for the courts to decide whether loving, committed same-sex couples can marry in New Mexico. For us, the time is now."

Their attorneys filed an emergency request with New Mexico’s Second Judicial District Court to allow the couple to legally marry immediately because of the dire health prognosis. The court made a special effort to make sure the couple got their marriage license immediately.

Jen and Angelique met in Socorro, N.M. during their first semester at New Mexico Tech, and fell in love almost immediately. Although the State of New Mexico does not recognize their relationship, the couple considers themselves married for the 21 years they have been together. The couple settled in northern New Mexico after the Los Alamos Labs hired Angelique to work as an engineer. Later, they adopted three siblings from the New Mexico foster care system. Their oldest child is enlisted in the U.S. Army and is currently in basic training.

Due to Roper's sudden and severe illness, the couple cannot travel out of state to marry in a place that does not discriminate against same-sex couples. The only way they can hope to protect their family in this time of crisis and realize their dream of being legally married.

"Even when I was a little kid, I always dreamed of growing up and getting married," Neuman said. "I knew Jen was the one almost as soon as we met, and I don't want to lose the opportunity to marry her. It is very important to us that our relationship is recognized as what it is: a marriage."

The marriage situation in New Mexico remains unclear. New Mexico is the only U.S. state that does not address the same-gender marriage issue by law. Following the landmark June rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, many legal scholars in New Mexico believe that same-gender marriages are not banned by law, so denial of those weddings would be unconstitutional.

Friday's wedding was hastily planned, and the couple were unable to plan it. But cancer center employees found a way to make it special.

Carolyn Phillips, an oncology nurse practitioner, was the maid of honor. She has been one of Roper's caregivers at the hospital. The best man was Karl Krenek, who works with Neuman at Los Alamos.

Probate Judge Mark Basham presided over the brief ceremony. Afterward, the couple returned to Roper's room, where she was again hooked up to an IV pumping out chemotherapy medicine. The staff produced a wedding cake and a bottle of sparkling apple-cranberry juice to celebrate the wedding.

Neuman couldn't resist making a joke to her wife: "We should put a sign on the back of your [wheel]chair that says, 'Just Married.'''

(Hat tip to Journal Santa Fe and Santa Fe New Mexican.)