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County Clerk Refuses to Follow Judge's Order to Issue Marriage License to Lesbian Couple

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"We all need to be issuing the same marriage license and following the same laws."

Photo Credit: AP

New Mexico state law takes no definitive stance on gay marriage, and while multiple counties have started issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, one county clerk is refusing to do so even in the face of a judge's order.

Sharon Shover, who serves in Los Alamos county, this week refused to follow a judge's order to give a marriage license to two women. Shover, a Republican, is publicly standing up to the order, saying she believes the decision to change the definition of marriage should be made by the state's Supreme Court or by the legislature, The Albuquerque Journal reported.

Shover's move comes after First Judicial District Judge Sheri Raphaelson ordered her to issue the permit to the couple, Janet Newton and Maria Thibodeau. If the clerk refused, the justice said she would need to show up in court to argue why such an allowance was denied. Standing firm, Shover is slated to appear Wednesday to make her case.

Albuquerque's KOB-TV has more:

"Piecemeal litigation in courts across New Mexico is not good governance. County clerks need a comprehensive and clear answer from the state of New Mexico addressing this issue," Shover said in a statement. "We all need to be issuing the same marriage license and following the same laws."

You can read the clerk's complete statement on the situation, below (as published by KRQU-TV):

Last week, Los Alamos County received a lawsuit and related order from First Judicial District Court Judge Sheri Raphaelson compelling the Clerk’s office to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses, or appear before her in court on Wednesday, Sept. 4 at 10 a.m. to explain why the licenses are not being issued. As previously stated on Friday, I consider this to be a matter of great importance, not only to Los Alamos County, but to all County Clerks in New Mexico, as I have already indicated by my support in joining all of the other Clerks in the New Mexico Association of Counties’ request for the State Supreme Court to provide procedural guidance on how we should proceed.

I have weighed my options carefully over the holiday weekend in reaching a decision. First, as Clerk, I am required to uphold the laws of the State of New Mexico. I based my denial of a license last week on the actual language contained in the statutes. The statements contained on the marriage license that is issued by the Clerk’s office, as set forth in State law, requires a male and female or bride and groom applicant. I respect and value the rights of each person to be treated as equally and fairly as an individual as our Constitution states. Clearly, the marriage license in State statute has not been updated since 1961. It does not work for same sex couples, and that is a matter for the legislature to fix, not a Clerk and not a District Judge. A marriage license is a legally binding, permanent record signed by both applicants. Because the license issue has not previously been addressed in any of the other court proceedings, I have decided to appear before Judge Raphaelson tomorrow at 10 a.m. in Los Alamos to state my concern about the outdated and deficient forms.  The County Attorney has filed our answer to the writ of mandamus we received last week, and I will let that document address each of the concerns specifically without further comment. In fact, because I will be appearing in court, it would not be appropriate for me to give any further comments to the media prior to Wednesday morning.

However, I do want to say in closing that this is a legislative problem; forms enacted as state statutes should be changed by the appropriate legislative body, which is our state legislature. I urge the State Supreme Court to take up this matter quickly and to provide guidance to all County Clerks throughout the State. Piecemeal litigation in courts across New Mexico is not good governance. County Clerks need a comprehensive and clear answer from the State of New Mexico addressing this issue. We all need to be issuing the same marriage license, and following the same laws.

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The most recent decision comes after Shover previously refused Newton and Thibodeau a license. They filed a lawsuit last week, but the county clerk asked in an official court response, through her attorney, to hold the order until the Supreme Court issues a ruling. The stand-off is the most recent in an ongoing series of events.

The battle first started several weeks ago when Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, Reuters reported. Ellins said "equal protection should apply to everyone," with the action led to at least six counties issuing gay marriage permits.

Additionally, a state district court judge also ruled in August that denying gay couples the ability to marry is a violation of the state's constitution, as the document bars gender-based discrimination. Judge Alan Malott noted that equal protection should extend to gays and lesbians as well.

The state of New Mexico has yet to make a definitive decision on the issue of marriage.

(H/T: Albuquerque Journal)

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