ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Marriage-equality advocates late Tuesday filed a writ of mandamus with the New Mexico Supreme Court seeking a ruling on the issue of whether same-sex couples can marry in the State of New Mexico.
The writ also asks the court to clarify that New Mexico respects the marriages of same-sex New Mexico couples who married in another state, which is necessary to ensure that those couples qualify for all of the federal programs that are now available to married same-sex couples as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision last week invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico, ACLU national, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Albuquerque law firm Sutin, Thayer & Brown PC, and Albuquerque attorneys Maureen Sanders, Kate Girard, and Lynn Perls filed the writ.
“The United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn DOMA has increased our sense of urgency to clarify the ability of same-sex couples to marry in New Mexico,” ACLU-NM executive director Peter Simonson said. “With all barriers to federal recognition removed, our State cannot stand by as thousands of same-sex couples, many of whom were married out of state, continue to be denied those protections.”
There are more than 1,100 places in federal laws and programs where being married makes a difference, including eligibility for family medical leave, social security survivor’s benefits, and access to health care for a spouse. With DOMA now overturned, same-sex couples could immediately become eligible for these federal benefits and protections, as well as all of the protections given to spouses under state law, if the New Mexico Supreme Court rules that New Mexico law permits same-sex couples to marry and also requires that the state respect the marriage of same-sex couples who have married out-of-state.
“Every day that goes by, same-sex couples and their families are being harmed by not being able to protect their families through marriage,” NCLR executive director Kate Kendell said. “The fall of DOMA has greatly upped the stakes for loving, committed same-sex couples in New Mexico. Now more than ever, we urgently need guidance from the courts on whether these couples can access the protections and societal recognition of marriage.”
A writ of mandamus is a special legal action that permits the New Mexico Supreme Court to resolve an issue without waiting for the lower courts to rule. The New Mexico Supreme Court is not legally required to accept writ petitions, but it may do so when presented with an issue of great public importance.
The ACLU of New Mexico, ACLU national, NCLR, Sutin Law Firm, and Albuquerque attorneys Maureen Sanders, Kate Girard, and Lynn Perls filed an earlier lawsuit seeking the freedom to marry on behalf of same-sex couples in the Second Judicial District Court on March 21, 2013. If the New Mexico Supreme Court declines to hear the writ petitions, that lawsuit, Griego v. Oliver, will proceed and will determine whether same-sex couples have a constitutionally protected right to marry in the state.