Shortly after a terminally-ill woman from Pojoaque, New Mexico sought an emergency court order allowing her to legally marry her partner of 21 years in hopes that their three children would be protected, a clerk from Dona Ana County began issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
Jen Roper has a life-threatening form of brain cancer that has caused her health to severely deteriorate in the past few months. Together with the woman she considers her wife, Angelique Neuman, they have raised three kids, the eldest of whom is currently in basic training in the U.S. Army.
With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Roper and Neuman filed the emergency order today. Then, unexpectedly, the clerk in Dona Ana County decided that the “state’s marriage statutes are gender neutral and do not expressly prohibit Dona Ana County from issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples,” according to a statement obtained by the AP.
“Any further denial of marriage licenses to these couples violates the United States and New Mexico Constitution and the New Mexico Human Rights Act,” Ellins said. “Dona Ana County is upholding New Mexico law by issuing these marriage licenses, and I see no reason to make committed couples in Dona Ana County wait another minute to marry.”
County clerks usually face challenges when they take the law into their own hands like that, and the issue may ultimately have to be resolved in court. But for now, couples have immediately descended on Las Cruces, NM where they began receiving their marriage licenses. Dona Ana is the first county in New Mexico to effectively allow gay marriage, though a series of lawsuits are pending in the state on that very issue, including Roper’s and Neuman’s.
However, Geraldine Salazar, clerk of Santa Fe County where Roper and Neuman live, said she does not plan on following Dona Ana’s lead because of those lawsuits. Just yesterday, a gay couple from Santa Fe asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to to streamline the way they handle same-sex marriage lawsuits. Roper and Neuman hope to add their voice to the chorus of change taking New Mexico by storm.
“I want to know that my family will be protected if I pass away,” Roper said in a statement from the NCLR. “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.”