While none of New Mexico's marriage statutes specifically prohibit same-sex marriages, "when read as a whole, the statutes have the effect of precluding same-gender couples from marrying and benefiting from the rights, protections and responsibilities that flow from a civil marriage," the opinion for the unanimous court read.
New Mexico cannot deny same-sex couples the right to marry or the rights, protections and responsibilities arising from the state's marriage laws unless opponents can prove that discrimination is "substantially related to an important government interest," the opinion written by Justice Edward Chavez said.
In August, the Dona Ana County clerk's office said it would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because the state's Constitution didn't specifically prohibit it. Other clerks followed suit. The state Supreme Court agreed to hear the case after clarification was sought.
Opponents of same-sex marriage have asserted that defining marriage to bar persons of the same sex from marrying is related to the "important, overriding governmental interests of 'responsible procreation and childrearing' and to prevent the deinstitutionalization of marriage, the opinion said. However, the jurists noted that procreation has never been a condition of marriage under New Mexico law "as evidenced by the fact that the aged, the infertile, and those who choose not to have children are not precluded from marrying."
The court concluded that the purposes of New Mexico marriage laws was to bring "stability and order to the legal relationship of committed couples by defining their rights and responsibilities as to one another, their children if they choose to raise children together, and their property."
"Prohibiting same-gender marriages is not substantially related to the governmental interests advanced by the parties opposing same-gender marriage or to the purposes we have identified," the opinion said. "Therefore, barring individuals from marrying and depriving them of the rights, protections, and responsibilities of civil marriage solely because of their sexual orientation violates the Equal Protection Clause ... of the New Mexico Constitution."
New Mexico joins 16 states and the District of Columbia in allowing same-sex marriage.